Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The EU is not the only threat to democracy

I own about a dozen academic tracts on globalisation. Most of them are dense, badly written and and not intended to communicate anything to anyone. Usually they are impenetrable, littered with unnecessary jargon and a third of the book is taken up by references. These books are not designed to be read. It's academic vanity publishing - and at the prices they're asking, it's more about ripping off university libraries.

Only very occasionally do you comes across a good one that's at least written to be read. They all say essentially the same thing though; that sovereignty as a concept as commonly understood by most is obsolete - and in some respects an anachronism. There is a natural atrophy as economies become ever more intertwined and interdependent and we must simply come to terms with "divided sovereignty" where nation states lose a measure of their external sovereignty while retaining domestic sovereignty.

This is certainly not the case with the EU where we submit to a set of supranational decision mechanisms where internal matter are uniquely influenced by EU law to an extent known or tolerated nowhere else on earth. It suits europhiles, however, to massage this notion that matters within our own borders are entirely the competence of the national government.

On the base level external sovereignty is limited by way of devices like customs and regulatory unions, where interactions with third actors can only be conducted through a central entity acting on behalf of member states. For a time there was a degree of delineation between those matters regarded as purely domestic and matters international. The encroachment begins with regulatory harmonisation for the purposes of trade governance.

Until that point, the encroachment on sovereignty is barely noticeable except to industry specialists and officials. The process happens without wider public awareness. If they get an inclination as to what is happening, they are unlikely to fully comprehend why. What was done to the UK to bring us in line with the single market was a stealth revolution in commercial governance.

For the most part, the public doesn't care. There's the low level complaining by small business at the cost of compliance but compliance brings its own commercial benefits. The trade off is tolerated. Only when more visible measures came into play, did we start to see outright objections, notably the Metric Martyrs case as street traders were prohibited from advertising goods in imperial measures. This is when the technical encroaches on the cultural. Similarly with product labelling.

There are, of course, clear advantages to the harmonisation of regulation for the expansion of trade and had the EU limited itself to matters of trade we might, perhaps, not be where we are today. The scope of the EU vastly exceeds trade governance, encompassing workers rights and environmental protections, advancing agendas that compel governments national and local to abide by rules and commit resources to meet quotas, targets and political objectives decided at the very highest levels, often behind closed doors, with no meaningful civil society consultation and very often subject to the fads of narcissistic politicians trying to outdo each other. That which is now described as "virtue signalling".

In this equation it suits progressives to nurture the narrative that sovereignty is obsolete as it's considerably more convenient to establish agendas at the global and regional level where like minded jet-setters can impose their morality and their ideas without having to persuade anyone, argue a case or bump into the awkward democracy thing. It is then fashionable to market the idea that sovereignty is a throwback. Brexit is what happens when the masses think otherwise.

This is where another key deception creeps in. We are told that outside the EU we become a rule taker rather than a rule maker. To a point this is true - but only to a point. Supposing that the UK enters an FTA with the EU (now increasingly boilerplate) we commit to non-regression on environmental and social matters (defined largely by the International Labour Organisation and global conventions on climate change etc) and technical governance in respect of standards, where again the nexus of international organisations plays a major role. As such, there is no such thing as EU standards.

The "rule taker" myth has become a powerful weapon in the remainer arsenal but even the full single market package of regulation (EEA) pertains mainly to trade and technical governance which accounts for only a quarter of the EU acquis. What is described as "EU mission creep" has taken the EU beyond trade governance to the point of being a supreme government in all but name. It's easier to list the areas of life where the EU doesn't have regulatory influence. As one Tweeter put it to me just recently "I'd rather have no say in a quarter of the rules than 1/28th of a say in all of them".

But then remainers would argue that the UK has a disproportionate influence in the EU on account of what it brings to the table in terms of aid spending, expertise, defence and intelligence assets etc. But also because it leads by example. That tends to be the winning factor in the exercise soft power. But if that is true of the UK in the EU then it is also true of the UK in the WTO, ISO, UNECE, FAO and WHO.

The surface level of trade debate tends to view the WTO as the playground of giants, but it's actually around the edges where we find the incremental projects that drive trade forward in between major multilateral accords, where the UK is a leading participant - especially in standards proliferation and development. Standards are very often decided by the agreed best practice rather than "might is right". Smaller states often do not have the capacity or on intellectual resource to be players n the standards game, but even in a no deal situation, the UK by way of being a first world advanced economy still has a contribution to make. There's a lot to be said for the first mover advantage which requires an agility the EU is inherently incapable of. A structural defect, one might say.

Obviously there are losses of national influence associated with Brexit both in the EU and other international forums. The EU is also a soft power superpower and is even in the process of reshaping eve the WTO in its own image. Again this is an example of how leading by example enhances influence. The EU has made multilateral WTO agreements central to its trade operations with EU FTA tracts now replicating WTO conventions verbatim. As much as it wants to be seen as a good actor, the long terms strategic objective is total dominance over the WTO agenda.

This is a problem. The WTO ecosystem is every bit the same sort of intellectual domain as the EU. Rootless internationalists raised on the same narrow groupthinks who see entities like the WTO as a vehicle to advance other agenda, not least equality and climate action and UN Sustainable Development Goals. Global governance becoming global government.

This is where the wheels start to fall off. Part of the reason the US is (rightly) a blocker at the WTO is that the WTO is gradually morphing into a supranational power which the US sees as a direct threat to its own sovereignty and counter to its own strategic aims. This attitude predates the Trump experiment and though Trump is very much the wildcard, the current tone is fairly consistent with America's aggressively self-interested trade policy.

Similarly, part of the reason the US does not adopt UNECE standards in the same way the EU does is chiefly because the EU dominates UNECE through block voting where the US has only one vote. Consequently the EU's abuse of power is a blocker to a truly global standards system. The US will not enter any multilateral framework where the EU can exploit this advantage. If the WTO and affiliate organisations continue on the current trajectory, reinforcing the WTO's power, then the US will bring it down and we're back where we started save for a rump WTO serving as a puppet of the EU - as the UN has been to the US in the past.

America, though, is far from alone in its mistrust of the emerging global government. African states find that trade with the EU comes with far too many peripheral conditions pertaining to pollution, climate, human rights and labour standards. Not only is this already central to the EU's thinking, seeking to export its own values through trade, it wants the power to double down on this folly. The net result is African states bypassing Western institutions entirely in favour of no strings attached purely commercial endeavours with China. The aggressive moral imperialism of the EU may well contribute to the retreat of western soft power. While the EU is praised by its admirers as being the white knight in international politics and the standard bearer for global progressivism, the reality is unfolding somewhat differently.

By way of overreach it now faces challenges on two fronts. Brexit won't be the first rebellion against the EU's sovereignty destroying mission creep but there is also the problem of its immediate neighbours. The EU has been long trying to rationalise the Swiss deals, instead preferring a single treaty apparatus.

Brexit adds some complication to this. The EU can make no concession to Switzerland that the UK can use as leverage. This causes the EU to take an unusually aggressive stance with Switzerland, applying the full force of its own leverage. There it bumps into Switzerland's constitution where the public have a veto. What should now be close to a conclusion could drag on for several years and the EU is not making any friends in the process.

The EU has largely convinced itself that might is right and it can throw its weight around without consequence. It also believes it has no choice and is seeking to further its own geopolitical clout through trade. It can only do this by further supplanting the presence of member states on the world stage where the EU's agenda very well may clash with the traditional foreign policies of former colonial European powers. As with the Libyan intervention, the likelihood of a unified and coherent position among the EU27 is somewhere around nil - unless there is a further push toward federalisation. Eventually the project runs out of road.

The success of what has become a system of global governance has largely depended on slow and subtle integration which can be achieved without obtaining democratic consent. Now that it's out in the open, it's becoming more ambitious and more power hungry. Moreover, it becomes more dangerously disconnected from the public.

The EU often advertises its "civil society engagement" but their definition of civil society is different to yours and mine. For the EU civil society is super NGOs comprised of national charities and pressure groups, most of which are in receipt of direct or indirect EU funding coupled with other captured institutions. Academia especially. A continental groupthink of brainwashed wonks who never had a real job, shuttled between Brussels, Strasbourg and Geneva. Consequently they do not quite reside on the same planet as the rest of us.

The outcome of this is yet more agreements and directives compelling states to commit hundreds of billions to what are essentially vanity projects not tempered by any kind of democracy. Certainly the recent zero carbon initiative qualifies. This translates into more taxes, energy hikes, and aggressively authoritarian measures from banning plastic straws through to draconian lowering of local speed limits though to putting trackers in cars. All based on junk science. The climate agenda then becomes a Trojan horse for just about any sociopathic malthusian measure which they can then impose on us without having to either explain or seek consent. There is a limit to what the public will tolerate as we now see in the UK and France.

But then Brexit of itself brings little remedy to this in that our own government would not hesitate to sign up to these measures even without the EU and if the EU had never existed we would still be facing a variant of the same problem, with measured cooked up by global elites casually sweeping democracy aside. Unless the UK enters a constitutional reform programme to recognise that the people are sovereign and to give them a direct veto, government will continue to be something done to us rather than being a participatory process where they actually have to win the argument.

There are those who think Brexit is a return to national sovereignty. This is only partially true. As it happens, the EU is not the only global actor seeking to make sovereignty redundant. They say it's obsolete because they've decided between them that it is. The battle for sovereignty one that is never truly won outright. The threats to national democracy continue to evolve and we need continued vigilance to ensure what little is clawed back is not once again given away by a political establishment in Westminster that is equally disconnected from the public they notionally serve. Without a constitutional overhaul there is a serious danger that Brexit makes no difference at all.

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