Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Orange Booker Slur, part 2

Part 1 is at

Part 2: Europe : A Liberal Future by Nick Clegg

In this series I am investigating the Orange Book for signs of dangerous right-wing attitudes. Quite what this means in the context of the EU is not clear. Does right-wing refer to back-pedalling on support for the EU? But this could equally be a left-wing position. With this question hanging, I proceed.

Clegg suggests three principles for a Liberal Europe:

1. Stop perpetual revolution

On the first principle, writing before the constitution was rejected, Clegg suggests that after it is agreed, there should be a period of political stability. He notes that "one intergovernmental conference has flowed into the next without pause since 1992." It is difficult to interpret this in light of the constitution's failure. But if you want to interpret it as back-pedalling and therefore right or left-wing, suit yourself.

In any case it is astute to recognise that constant change is a great cause of concern to the public, because it makes the scenario of the unstoppable perpetual accretion of powers more plausible.

2. Make all power accountable

That all power should be accountable might seem self-evident. Among a number of points Lib Dems doubtless all know and support, an interesting conclusion is that because there is no common demos to the EU, no credibly pan-European political parties, and because European elections are largely fought on domestic issues everywhere, the ability of the European Parliament to legitimise decisions made in the EU is compromised. And therefore national governments must remain the principle source of legitimacy at least for the time being. And radical reforms are needed to national parliaments to improve their scrutiny of EU affairs.

Is this back-pedalling from a more desirable position, of a powerful European Parliament with a pan-European mandate? I don't think so. It is recognising that the EP is not (yet) up to the task of being the sole source of democratic legitimacy.

3. Streamline EU powers

Ah, now we have it, the UKIP wet dream. Let's actually read it first, just to make sure.

Clegg writes, that for political reasons "national governments are happier to accept EU legislation that penetrates into the minutiae of domestic economic and social life, while insisting on maximum freedom of action on the international stage", contrasting the regulation of bus designs with invisibility at the UN.

So powers need to move in both directions. I'm sure we'd all agree with that. But what about the specifics? Cutting to the meat, an argument is made for curtailing social policy at the EU level. Aha!

Two reasons for an EU social policy are examined. These are: to avoid social dumping; and to improve social policy in backward countries like the UK who wouldn't legislate for it themselves.

Clegg responds to these with the liberal argument that the EU should not be used as a tool for bypassing democratic domestic politics, and with the observation that there is no empirical evidence for social dumping. The latter is of course a left wing argument - at least among left wingers aware of the world outside the EU - that strong social policies are not significant obstacles to investment.

Why does this leave an uneasy feeling? Shouldn't the EU be (spiritually) more than a (filthy lucre) economic union? Shouldn't it therefore love its citizens the only way a government can, with social policy? My heart says yes, but my head says no.

Right wing would mean opposing social policy in general, not just an EU social policy. From the UK perspective it may seem much the same, but other EU members may have the opposite fear - of common social policies weakening their own. Clegg supports social policy itself. So not guilty.

Coming next, Global Governance, Legitimacy and Renewal by Christopher Huhne.

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