By Vexen Crabtree 2016
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by their home countries. For example, the UK is represented by 73 MEPs which are elected by the British every 5 years1. These sit in the European Parliament and vote on all news laws.
EU legislation is proposed by the European Commission, which is staffed by non-partisan experts (one per EU member). This prevents party politics influencing laws in order to give home nations unfair advantages. The Parliament can vote-out the entire Commission with a 2/3 majority if the Commission becomes untrustworthy. After corruption charges, the threat of this action once caused the entire Commission to resign en masse. All new legislation is then voted upon by the elected MEPs in the European Parliament. If you want better laws from the EU, the trick is to elect better MEPs.
From the way it is taught in schools, many would think that European History could correctly be called a military history of war and division. Many of its countries have had centuries-long series of wars between themselves and their neighbours; culminating in the two world wars. But, as of the founding of the European Community over fifty years ago, the political and cultural environment has completely changed. European multilateralism has commandeered regional peace and stability of the kind never seen before.
The Copenhagen Criteria for membership include democracy, free market economy, observance of human and minority rights, and political stability2. The main push towards this was in the frantic activity of the EC from 1957. From then, the benefits of joining the fledging EU became so apparent, that a country would change its political institutions and character in order to have a chance of joining. Democracy is now immovably established in so many countries that it is easy to forget that it was once only a fragile tapestry. Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal both joined in 1986 only after "discard[ing] their previous military governments and dictatorships"2 as the EU spread to its south. "Enlargement of the EU southward and eastward has consolidated democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece and created a zone of peace and prosperity in former communist central and eastern Europe"3.The Economist (2007)4. Because of these successes, the ProEuropa website lists "Peace and democracy" as its 8th reason as to why the EU is a worthwhile endeavour5, especially as there are still more semi-stable countries on the fringes of the EU. A strong EU, acting as a single democratic and commercial body, can massively help curb the destabilizing antics of anti-democratic countries such as Russia, who often seek to undermine democracy in the space between the EU and Russia. The stronger the EU is, the less the power of Europe's enemies.
“The prospect of joining played a critical part in ensuring a smooth transition from dictatorships to democracy in Greece, Spain and Portugal. More recently it has transformed the east European countries as they moved from communist central planning to liberal democracy. The countries of the western Balkans have been pacified and stabilised after the bloody 1990s thanks mainly to their hopes of EU membership. And Turkey has made wholesale changes in its politics, economics and society largely to boost its chances of joining. Indeed, judged in terms of success in exporting its values to its backyard, the EU has done much better with its neighbours than the United States has with central and south America, largely because of the carrot of enlargement.”
Historical eras in which "every man for himself" becomes the international norm are periods of instability, damaging human economic and moral progress.
“We have nations (these communities growing in self-consciousness) who refuse to acknowledge any laws between themselves. This is the international anarchy. Each state maintains it is complete judge of its right. This was bad enough. It becomes almost a desperate condition when these conflicting judges maintain that they may use any means to enforce their verdicts, and when science puts in their hands methods which allow each judge to destroy his fellow.”
Gerald Heard was writing not long before the start of World War II, somewhat unfortunately proving himself to be correct in his observations. Since then, the United Nations and EU both attempt to reign-in this chaos with a long series of international accords such as the Geneva Convention, and the attempted European Human Rights charter. As the rise of nation had to occur to curb tribalism and bloody and unstable feudalism, now, the rise of the supra-nation curbs the organised self-interests of nation-states themselves.
There is also the fact the liberal markets themselves tend to reduce violence between neighbours. 18th and 19th century political theorists have long observed that if two countries become closer economically, they are less likely to engage in war. Montesquieu (1748) believed that commerce “weakened the grip of xenophobia and bigotry [...] and since '[t]wo nations that trade with each other become reciprocally dependent ... [t]he natural effect of commerce is to lead to peace.' ”7. Even such great minds may not have predicted the accuracy of their statements nor the European-wide scale on which they would one day apply.
“Modern large corporations can outmanouvre governments and therefore evade the law8. If one country tightens up quality control, industrial regulation or raises employee benefits, modern companies can easily move production abroad9. Governments are under pressure to not improve legislation.10. The heads of large companies have massive power over staff, employment, industry, national economies and the environment and yet are not elected nor publicly accountable for their actions (which are sometimes damaging to large numbers of people11). Supranational organisations like the UN and the EU provide a counterbalance. For example "the EU has taken on multinational giants like Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba for unfair competition. The UK would not be able to do this alone"12. By encouraging governments to work in tandem, and because they are staffed by those on the pay roll of elected governments, such international politics can bring democracies back into power13,14.
“Nation-states, some argue, are too small to be able to influence global change, and too large to respond effectively to the pressures for increased flexibility and competitiveness, or as Giddens put it 'too small to solve the big problems, but also too large to solve the small ones'.”
We clearly need multinational governmental bodies to control multinational corporations. Not only will this bring capitalism back under the protective arms of democracy, but it will also solve the second problem identified by Held and Giddens: It will allow national governments to concentrate more on the small problems of national well-being.”
The EU is a model of employment law; companies cannot arbitrarily fire people, nor can employees slur their companies without the other side taking them to court. Such orderly and civil life is facilitated by co-operation amongst many governments. On one hand government power has been superseded as areas of law-making are relegated to higher bodies. But on the other hand governments have more power as government legislation through international bodies can be promoted to continental effectiveness, binding companies and workforces that would have otherwise evaded control.
“There are many examples where the European Commission has worked to eliminate anti-competitive practices, an area where the UK on its own would not have been able to make the same impact. One such example was when in February 2008 the European Commission fined Microsoft €899 million for failing to comply with sanctions imposed on it for anti-competitive behaviour. An investigation in 2004 had concluded that Microsoft was guilty of freezing out its rivals in products like media players while at the same time linking its internet browser to its Windows operating system.”
Department for Business and Innovation Skills (2010)
Working for democracy also means defending it against those who try to undermine it. Russia has been waging long-term destabilisation strategies in Europe, and only an inter-national, coherent response can resist the scale of their interference:
“NATO has been warning for some time that Russia has been conducting long-term information warfare operations in Europe17,18, on a scale and sophistication that dwarves anything that NATO or Europe is doing in response19. On account of the long-term damage such parties do to the UK and to other European countries, Russia has been quietly and effectively supporting right-wing parties20,21 in order to further its own interest in a fractured Europe22. "Senior Russian political figures have long cultivated relationships with nationalist and often anti-EU parties in Europe"21 (e.g. in the UK, France, Germany)18. They will also fund and encourage mainstream parties (such as the UK's Conservatives23), if they are doing enough damage to the EU.24. On top of this, cyber-attacks and military operations have been used to subdue and intimidate several Baltic and Eastern-European countries (Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia)24,25,26.
In a time when the EU needs to adopt a co-ordinated economic and political response27, the western world's reactions have instead 'been nervy and sporadic'24, giving further advantage to Russia24,28. The UK's decision to leave the EU has made this worse29.
The most effective long-term political strategy to cool Russian fire is to encourage solidified EU foreign policy. Economically, to stop industrial dependence on Russian pipelines we need to (continue) to deploy distributed renewable energy sources, reduce car and travel use by funding wider and cheaper public transport and encourage electric vehicles. Individually, we need to reject hyper-nationalist political parties and those who are attempting to weaken European togetherness, and, check news sources before sharing divisive material on social media. In this war, information-hygiene, influence and economics is more important than military strength.”
Current edition: 2016 Mar 14
Last Modified: 2017 Jan 25
Parent page: The European Union: Democratic Values, The Euro, Crises and Migration
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Foreign Affairs. Magazine. Published by The Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. Their website states that "since its founding in 1922, Foreign Affairs has been the leading forum for serious discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs"..
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
Alston, Philip. Professor of Law at New York University and Director of its Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Editor of the European Journal of International Law since 1997.
(2005, Ed.) Non-State Actors and Human Rights. Hardback book. Published by Oxford University Press. Academy of European Law. European University Institute in collaboration with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law.
Brown, Gordon. Prime Minister of the UK 2007-2010 for the Labour Party.
(2016) Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk, UK.
(2004, Ed.) A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics. Paperback book. 2nd edition. Originally published 2000. Current version published by Routledge for The Open University.
(2003) Political Ideologies. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Originally published 1992. Current version published by Palgrave MacMillan.
(2003) European Union Law. 3rd edition. Published by Lexis Nexis, UK. Margot Horspool is professor of European and Comparative Law at the University of Surrey; Fellow of the Centre for the Law of the European Union, University College London and professor at the College of Europe.
(2004) No Logo. Paperback book. Originally published 2000, HarperCollins, London, UK.
(2000) Sword and Scales: An Examination of the Relationship Between Law and Politics. Paperback book. Published by Hart Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK. Prof. Loughlin is Professor of Law at the University of Manchester, UK, and Professor of Public Law-elect at the London School of Economics & Political Science, UK.
The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.