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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

making the case against democracy

with Andrew Moravcsik:

"Far from demonstrating of the failure and fragility of European integration, the collapse of the constitutional project in fact demonstrates the EU’s stability and success. Contemporary Europe rests on a pragmatically effective, normatively attractive and politically stable “European constitutional settlement,” embodied in the revised Treaties of Rome. This settlement is both popular and broadly consistent with what European citizens say they want the EU to do."

The draft constitution was, above all, an exercise in public relations... The basic idea was to legitimate the EU not, as had been the case since its origin, by facilitating mutually beneficial trade, regulation and economic growth, but instead by politicizing and democratizing it in a way that encouraged a shared sense of citizen engagement in a common project. In debating the “finalit√© politique” of Europe, it was claimed, citizens would come to understand and appreciate the EU more fully. Sophisticated critics referred to this as redressing the “democratic deficit,” but the immediate policy goal was more concrete: to reverse the sagging popularity of the organization."

So in one paragraph the EU is "popular", and in another the EU's popularity is "sagging". Okaaay...

The effort to generate participation and legitimacy by introducing more populist and deliberative democratic forms was doomed to failure because it runs counter to our consensual social scientific understanding of how advanced democracies actually work. There is simply no empirical reason to believe, as the advocates of constitutional reform clearly believed, that opportunities to participate generate greater participation and deliberation, or that participation and deliberation generate political legitimacy.

I knew we must have been missing something all along! Democracy and participation are the problem!

Maybe we should just ban voting altogether and let "experts" who have agreed a "consensual social scientific understanding of how advanced democracies actually work" run everything. That certainly seems to be the implication.

Forcing participation [ha! - some chance] is likely to be counterproductive, because the popular response is condemned to be ignorant, irrelevant and ideological. Ignorant because individuals have no incentive to generate sufficient information to render concrete interests and political behavior consistent. As we see from the 50-year track record of EU referendums, elections, and conventions, the result is an information-poor, institutionally unstructured, and unstable plebiscitary politics.

Jeez - you let grubby little ordinary people start deciding stuff and where will it end? They might make decisions that are - gulp - ideological. Whatever next?

It should have come as no surprise to constitutional enthusiasts that, from the Laeken Declaration to the failed referenda, the constitutional process so utterly failed to inspire, engage, and educate European publics. Few citizens were aware of the 200 conventionnels’ deliberations, and at the end of the process, few could state what was in the resulting document. Constitutional aspirations and democratic reform seemed to have little effect on public knowledge.

An alternative view is that the failure of the ludicrous Giscard Convention doesn't demonstrate that engagement and democracy are themselves doomed to fail - only that the EU failed to engage and behave democratically. If no-one engaged in the Convention process (not completely true) is that surprising given Giscard’s total contempt for the opinions of anyone outside the Brussels bubble? Even people on the pompously named “praesidium” of the Convention were allowed almost no real input... so what chance ordinary people? This idea is, however, not explored...

Ach - it is very difficult to sum this all up calmly. What we have here is the basic case against democracy, dressed up in the jargon of social science, and aimed at a sympathetic academic audience.

Or maybe that's too harsh. Maybe from a couple of thousands of miles away, it's just easier to miss the reality of this thing: when the EU dumps on developing countries in your name, runs your aid budget badly, costs your country billions a year, and tens of billions more through over-regulation, and when it fails to have its budget signed off for 12 years in a row, and (still!) makes laws in secret, then actually it's kind of irritating? Or maybe that's difficult to see when it doesn't affect you?

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