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Cameron’s right about Juncker, but for the wrong reasons

Cmerkel-junker-cameronameron’s relentless drive to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid for presidency of the European Commission is driven by his desperate need to be able to negotiate prior to his proposed EU referendum in 2017 with a president who’ll be sympathetic to his demands for changes in the Britain-EU relationship, to order to swing the vote to stay in Europe. In power terms and given the ungovernability of the Tory parliamentary party because of its turbulent right-wing caucus, this is a logical course for him to take. But it raises the much more important democratic issue of the process for selecting the head of the Commission which has been pushed to the margins by the overriding drive to block a federalist.

The EPP, the centre-right party in the EU parliament headed by Merkel, claims the right to select Juncker as Commission president because they won the EU elections on 22 May and Juncker out of the various spitzenkandidaten (or top candidates) was their man. However it is difficult to accept that the EPP commands the confidence of the European electorate when their vote dropped substantially by 7%. There is also grave doubt about the claims of the EU parliament that it, as a newly elected body, has the mandate of the European peoples to choose the next president. The truth is rather that the Euro elections were a golden opportunity for a throwaway vote to kick the government or the whole political class, an opportunity of which very large minorities across Europe availed themselves. The idea that this was a thoughtful vote about the future of the Europe project is laughable, and indeed it has now ended with the absurd situation in which voters are supposed to have ‘chosen’ a leader they’ve never heard of, and if they had heard of him as an incorrigible political insider at the European court, they would have undoubtedly have rejected him with gusto.

Prime ministers however of the various European countries can rightly claim to reflect the confidence of their electorates since domestic elections are hard-fought and the outcomes do largely represent the real national sentiment at the time. It is above all in nations, with their shared ties of language, history and political culture, that democracy comes alive. At a European level the structures of democracy can be reproduced, but what is missing are the underlying integral bonds that bind the electorate together. The political unit is too diffuse to make sense to voters. The argument is much the same about the euro. It was said that even if EU economies were very different, the simple creation of a single currency would force them to converge. Transferring powers now to the EU parliament won’t drive political convergence, it will more likely create a political disaster to rival the economic disaster of the euro, and for the same reason.

6 Comments

  1. Chris Lovett says:

    Actually, people think at village level, not with any national rationale – though the media help to confuse them. A United States of AMERICA doesn’t seem a problem? So why should a United States of Europe trouble you? I’ve no problem with it, especially if it’s a Socialist Europe. Wait for fireworks from Syritza next year? Podemos? Go!!!

  2. Edmund Edgar says:

    “The truth is rather that the Euro elections were a golden opportunity for a throwaway vote to kick the government or the whole political class, an opportunity of which very large minorities across Europe availed themselves. The idea that this was a thoughtful vote about the future of the Europe project is laughable, and indeed it has now ended with the absurd situation in which voters are supposed to have ‘chosen’ a leader they’ve never heard of, and if they had heard of him as an incorrigible political insider at the European court, they would have undoubtedly have rejected him with gusto.”

    This is the media narrative, but it’s not actually true. It’s true that protest parties made gains, although we probably shouldn’t assume that’s all protest – some people genuinely agree with Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen. But there was a clear majority for the ordinary, boring, middle-of-the-road, pro-European parties: the centre-left, the centre-right, the liberals.

    The comment about it not being a vote about the future of the European _project_ is a bit weird; Neither the EU Parliament nor the Commission has much say about the constitutional side of things, which is mainly up to the member states. The election about things like debt, regulation, trade agreements and jobs. That’s as it should be, because those are the kind of things that the EU Parliament and the Commission have a bit of say on. And these are the same issues, right across the continent.

    Some will have decided based on the debates – 20% of the voters watched them, according to the (hostile, rather tricksy) poll commissioned by the Tories’ group. Others will have based them on their overall attitudes and their support for their party. That’s normal in a democracy; A lot of voters vote without knowing who the MP is or carefully studying the manifestos, but we still say that the MP was duly elected and that parties have a mandate to carry out the manifestos.

    This was a proper, hard-fought election, with higher turn-out than the London mayoral election or a typical US mid-term. It’s a shame that the British establishment sulked instead of participating – this includes Labour, who opposed the centre-left candidate but declined to nominate anyone better and trigger a primary, resulting in Schultz getting the job unopposed.

  3. Peter Rowlands says:

    While I usually support Michael’s analysis he is in my view wrong on this.While Europe may not be ready for full bodied federalism yet, that is what the left should be aiming for, as the only means of asserting control over global capital and thereby the possibility of creating a better,hopefully socialist future for Europe’s peoples. If we do not take this road the EU and the Euro will disintegrate to the benefit of the nationalist and fascist right and big business. Yes, the Euro is a mess and should not have been created in the way it was, but if we do not try to save it and promote democracy within the EU the left in Europe will have suffered a reverse from which there could be no recovery.

  4. David Pavett says:

    To me there is an incredible air of unreality about statements like

    “Prime ministers however of the various European countries can rightly claim to reflect the confidence of their electorates since domestic elections are hard-fought and the outcomes do largely represent the real national sentiment at the time.”

    Does Michael Meacher really believe this? Does he think that national electorates, at the time of choosing their governments, have weighed up the contentious issues concerning Europe, including who to vote for as president of the EU, and that this gives democratic legitimacy to what national leaders then set out to do? That would be an incredibly dodge assumption and it is clear that in the case of the electorate that he knows best, he does not accept that conclusion.

    Then, what are we to make of

    “At a European level the structures of democracy can be reproduced, but what is missing are the underlying integral bonds that bind the electorate together. The political unit is too diffuse to make sense to voters.”

    This sounds like a general argument against the possibility of a viable EU. Is that what it is meant to be?

    Coming from a very different standpoint Peter Rowlands says the left should support a federalist EU with the objective of controlling capital on a European (or at least EU, not quite the same thing!) scale. If we do not, he says then the disintegration of the EU will leave the field open the nationalist right and to big business. In these circumstances he says that failure to support the EU could lead to a disaster from which there could be no recovery.

    What Peter doesn’t deal with is the fact that for now arguing for the preservation of the EU means supporting an institution which is based on the free movement of capital and labour. Many on the left, and I guess this includes Peter, argue that opposing these just at the moment is not practical politics and that the main thing is to sure up the EU. That means supporting the EU which is tending towards federalism on a capitalist basis i.e. on the opposite basis from the one that Peter supports.

    All this is, at the very least, confusing and suggests to me that an in-depth discussion of the EU, its problems and its potential is long overdue on the left. Could Left Futures organise such a thing e.g. a call for papers and a meeting based on them.

  5. swatantra says:

    Looks like there are 3 people in this marriage.

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    David Pavett is quite right in calling for greater discussion of the EUas the left shows little interest in it, as witnessed by the limited response to Kate Hudson’s article on the EU elections.
    The creation of the Euro and enlargement of the EU in the ways in which these were carried out were wrong, but there is no reason why suitable growth based policies cannot change the EU’s direction, just as is the case in any country when a left wing party seeks change.There is nothing inherently capitalist about the EU, it will become what we make of it.

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