Already in 2002 Antony Alcock remarked in his A Short History of Europe about Brussels’ gaining power: “The most pressing concern is the continuing question of the Union’s perceived democratic deficit. The Union has been continually accused of being driven by centralising, uniforming political élites, contemptuous of those with different views, taking decisions behind closed doors and taking things for granted. […] Worse, to this contempt of others and their problems by die-hard Europhiles, signs of arrogance and intolerance have emerged. […] revealed is the great weakness of the Union, namely that for too many of those on the street, as opposed to political élites, the integration process is no longer a cause and therefore the Union lacks a soul” (Alcock, 280-283).
Scholars such as Alcock consider Brussels’ democratic deficit the EU’s Achilles heel. This, of course, is nonsense. From its start in the 1950ies the European vehicle was never intended to be democratic. The Ever Closer Union since 1990 was an undemocratic project too, ran by a bureaucracy which is, by definition, not a democracy. All EU’s treaties, regulations, enlargements, and financial schemes (such as the Euro and Brussels’ response to 2010th financial crises) have been decided undemocratically. Herman van Rompuy has never been elected President of the European Council by a democratic vote –and neither have been any of the VIP representatives of the European Union. Brussels’ Union is an empire run by appointees. Clearly, there’s a European Parliament. But this is consciously powerless. It’s a rubberstamp. The democratic deficit is not by accident, it’s by design.
In response to the critique of dr. Thierry Baudet’s Burgerforum, a recent Dutch movement that presses Parliament to accept advising referenda as an extra tool to correct Brussels’ regulations and encroaching power, Frans Timmermans, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, stated in Parliament: “Everything that comes from Brussels is good […] Parliament and Cabinet already weigh Brussels’ regulations carefully […] ‘Encroachment’ is a false notion” (Dutch Parliament, 21/1/2014). Baudet oughtn’t be too wrathful with Timmermans’ blatant denial: the Secretary is on Brussels’ short-list to be anointed as the follow up of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union For Foreign Affairs & Security and Vice-President of the European Commission. And even though Parliament’s majority has, sensationally, agreed with Burgerforum’s critique so that after the First Chamber approval 300.000 collected signatures might prompt a referendum (De Volkskrant, 22/1/2014), this only will affect the wording of Brussels’ output. Like in May and June 2005 when the French and the Dutch in referenda voted against Brussels’ Constitution of Europe, and the concept was simply rewrapped as Treaty of Lisbon in December 2007 –same text, different header. Because, even Burgerforum considers EU’s superstructure as something beneficial: it’s flawed and needs fixing, but that has to be done from the inside –and as one of its founders the Netherlands should never leave. Brussels’ understands the supporting states’ Catch22 and plays it, because “everything that comes from Brussels is good”.
Alcock thought that the gist of the Union’s “great weakness” was that it “lacks a soul”. But after the installation of an unelected European Union government with regal titles such as “High Representative”, we may safely conclude that that’s exactly what the Europhile ideology is about: to undo Europe from too much voting. Democracy is risky, it might lead to “a demand for far more direct democracy such as referenda” –something which Exposing the Demagogues’ think tank consider “dangerous” and right-wing, to be countered via “possible response strategies”. To stimulate a ‘national’ European ‘soul’, an European nationalism, which might fall prey to a pan-European populist movement, who might manipulate it via referenda or overruling, direct democracy, is precisely what European Council leaders’ abhor. Brussels’ functions best as an aloof, elitist bureaucracy with as little democracy as possible. What EU publications such as Exposing the Demagogues show is that there’s ‘good’ democracy, which applauds Brussels’ leadership, and ‘bad’ democracy, which belongs to the realm of the critical, right-wing, nationalistic populists. And despite Baudet’s common sense and Burgerforum’s bravado ‘good’ democracy will win the day.
Now, in 2014, Brussels’ empire shows many similarities with the undemocratic system of Concert of Europe’s heyday, roughly between 1814 and 1848. I think the analogy is refreshing.
Designed by the Austrian prince Klemens von Metternich a system of congresses between Europe’s great nations had to prevent the possibility of another Napoleonic horror. After successful meetings in the 1820ies and 1830ies the system fell apart during Europe’s nationalistic and democratic revolutions in 1848. The real difference is, of course, that Metternich’s Vienna never succeeded in becoming the undisputed bureaucratic sovereign, which Brussels is.
Nearly 80% of EU’s populace considers Brussels’ Ever Closer Union the lesser evil and to be preferred over Europe’s nationalistic terrors of the recent past. And with Eurocommissioner Olli Rehn claiming that “Brussels has ended the Euro’s existential crisis and recovery is ours” (World Economic Forum, Davos, 25/1/2014), any critique about the democratic gap will come to naught. The only jewel in Brussels’ crown which is missing is leaders of the great European states competing over the function of EU’s president. Because, if Angela Merkel succeeds Van Rompuy and continues her political career in Brussels too, then ‘Bundeskanzler’ is permanently positioned beneath ‘EU-President’.
Brussels’ bureaucratic bang since 1990 has proved victorious and its parallel development of democratic crunch is considered as collateral damage –a steep decline of democracy which to Europe’s elite perhaps even is justified, because Brussels’ bureaucrats are trained to know best.
I think, however, that the ever gaining democratic deficit embodies a vital danger, completely overlooked by historians such as Alcock.
The creation of EU’s superstructure, the acceptance of Brussels’ supremacy, and the belief in an de-nationalized Ever Closer Union which will soon include Turkey and Ukraine, can be understood from the will to prevent another armed conflict on European soil, to increase prosperity by becoming a unified global player, and to quell Nationalism’s nightmares. Reasons such as these root in a negative self-image: Europe (and West-Europe especially) needs to redeem and to repay its debts (slavery, colonialism, Holocaust, Cold War, opulence) before it can be remedied. To regents such as Timmermans the project of Brussels’ EU also is a programme of repayment of moral and economical debts. Europe is about becoming ‘good’ and the eradication of its innate evil.
To judge Europe answerable and to dissolve its nation’s identities –physically via Schengen, economically via Central Bank’s control and the Euro, culturally via aided mass immigration and imposed multi-culturalism, and politically via undemocratically overruling national and local democracies– Brussels denies the other side of Europe’s Janus face: until fifteen years ago Europe created western civilization’s modernity and it did so in a competitive rat-race between sovereign and national democracies and their free industries and institutions.
The absolute uniqueness in history of Europe’s modernity, democracy, science and industry is never underlined by any communication from Brussels and is a political taboo in any other media. Yet, Europe’s culture shaped the future we are living. Our culture is so ubiquitous and normal that we’re either unaware of it or think it’s American. But US white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were and are, culturally and contextually, European too. Until very recently WASP families with their European heritage and their ‘European’ cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia managed the US. Harvard, Yale, MIT Princeton, Stanford were, culturally and intellectually speaking, European universities. All US output have an American ‘swoosh’, for sure, but the framework is European. Nowadays, surpassed by nearly all around the globe European culture still is the paradigm for architecture, fashion, science, music, art, economics, industry, political science, any science, anything and more. Europe created and shaped Man’s modernity – al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries loath it, but only the Lost Tribes in the Amazon jungle are in complete denial.
Why did modernity start in Europe? I think that my answer shows the danger Brussels has put the EU-citizens in and why the ever gaining democratic deficit embodies a vital danger.
A crucial part of the ‘why in Europe’ is knotted with ‘when’. Modernity’s Moment is usually claimed by historians specialized in Eighteenth-Century European history. For convenience sake the 18th Century is mostly coined the ‘long Century’ starting around 1680 (or 1670) and ending around 1815 (or 1820). To most historians the notions and context of the Enlightenment (split into Early and Late) caused and waxed our modernity. Descartes, Spinoza, Huygens, Newton, Leibnitz, Locke, Von Wolff, Voltaire, Reid, Hume, Smith, Robertson, Johnson, Rousseau, Franklin, Diderot, Condorcet, Kant –to name some of the seminal philosophers. They knitted themselves together via correspondences and international clubs in a Republic of Letters. Every great power had its intellectual hot spots which again were linked to courts, universities, approved academies and subsidized societies. According to Jonathan Israel in his recent volumes Radical Enlightenment; Contested Enlightenment; Democratic Enlightenment (Oxford 2001-2011) all freeing philosophical breakthroughs which buttressed all freeing revolutions of modernity were caused by Spinoza’s systemized critique, its successors, and its competitors. Clearly, Israel is a bit swooned by his Spinoza of the 1670ies and the coalescing Early Enlightenment, but the notion that between 1740 and 1795 in Enlightened London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh our secular and unique modernity lifted off, is a widely accepted paradigm since the 1980ies.
Being an Eighteenth-Century specialist myself I think, however, that my colleagues claim too much ground.
Possibly Enlightened philosophy affected late 18th Century political revolutions. But it’s vital to stress that not one of the great European philosophers was in favour of democracy. Nearly all Edinburgh’s and London’s savants were vehemently against the American revolution and its democratic character –only Hume, who died in August 1776, was not unsympathetic to Americans’ claims. I think it’s clarifying that America’s sweeping democratic movement was carried not by Enlightened philosophers, but by orthodox Protestant Great Awakening adherents on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead of ‘new’ or ‘modern’, USA’s protest loudly echoed the pre-Enlightenment cry for freedom of Renaissance republicanism of Italian city states and the 16th Century Calvinist Dutch Republic’s war for independence. America’s successful resistance only became revolutionary and modern by hindsight from a mid-19th Century context. Because, French Revolution’s equalité and Church and State’s division didn’t last too long: liberté was guillotined in 1794 and in 1804 Napoleon was crowned emperor by the Pope. After 1815 the Restoration started a successful swing back to the undemocratic Old Regime, but without Enlightenment culture as the common denominator.
Clearly, Protestantism and Catholicism were deeply affected by moderation and reason: witch hunts, Inquisition, and the Devil lost their grip. Even in the Scottish Highlands grim orthodoxy gave way to a more inclusive creed. Reasonability within religion and vice versa became mainstream. But it is equally clear that after approximately 1780, when demographically speaking most of the great philosophers were on their way out, orthodoxy sprang back with a vengeance. Sentimentalism and Romanticism rapidly took over and an intensified, biblical religiosity captured the public sphere –often literally by redesigning cities via neo-Medieval, neo-Gothic and deference installing design, as described by Tristram Hunt in his Building Jerusalem. The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (New York, 2005). France’s Revolutionary conquests on the Continent created a division of Church and State in theory. Yet, Peter van Rooden shows in Religieuze Regimes. Over godsdienst en maatschappij in Nederland, 1570-1990 (Amsterdam, 1996), however, that in practice for the Netherlands at least Protestantism and Catholicism increased their already firm grip on Dutch politics and life until well into the 19th Century.
Economically things didn’t alter dramatically either. Professor Jan de Vries coined the early 17th Century Dutch Republic “the first modern economy”, but it remains highly debatable whether the Dutch were modern economists in our present understanding as De Vries claims (The First Modern Economy: Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500-1800 (Cambridge, 1997)). But even if the Dutch economic framework was modern, than this new and exported legal and financial environment in which a financial market including a stock exchange could thrive, didn’t become increasingly more modern before, let’s say, 1840. Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London, 1776) merely describes and analyses the commercial activities of his world. He doesn’t hand methods or mathematics of how to get sustainable growth for all nations simultaneously. And he couldn’t conceive anything else because the technical means for modern production were absent: until mid-19th Century the gain of one nation meant simply the loss of another. Unlike Hume, who ventured into proto-science fiction when philosophically discussing parallel forms of life in the universe in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (London, 1779) which he intended to get published posthumously because it was far too modern, Smith’s economical thinking was stuck with mathematics that hadn’t improved since the Renaissance, as Lorraine Daston shows in her Classical Probability in the Enlightenment (Princeton, 1988). For instance, our modern notions of ‘at random’ or ‘risk’ were only conceivable after mid-19th Century or as Daston puts it:
“The resolution of these conflicts –what is sometimes misleadingly called “rationalizing” practice– involved more than just “seeing the light” or mastering new techniques; it required living in a different, more stable world” (116).foto: fra Det østindiske kompaniets forlegning, maleri i Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Our modern mathematics simply didn’t exist during 18th Century Enlightenment: God’s Divine Intervention was in the equation still. The prime example of Dutch economic strength and entrepreneurial organization was the Dutch East India Company [De Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie] established in 1602. The VOC was a chartered company, the first multinational corporation, the first company to issue stock, and the first mega-corporation with governmental powers to wage war, establish colonies, and negotiate treaties. The huge profits and tonnage of the 17th Century VOC have blinded most historians for the fact that by the end of the 17th Century revenues had already become highly problematic, and that from the 1730ies the VOC was haemorrhaging money, leading to a suspension of payment in 1781 and bankruptcy in 1796. Fact is that the VOC never made a balance of profit and loss, didn’t grasp the statistical reality of risk, and did not make any retentions for future investments. In 1795 the Dutch Grand Pensionary Laurens Pieter van de Spiegel described the VOC as “a body without government, discipline and economy”. The Dutch businessmen were innovative organizers, but they never ceased to be old fashioned desperados at heart.