This May the citizens of the European Union will be given the opportunity to choose their new overlords, in the only directly elected EU body known as the European Parliament. Voter turnout has consistently been on the decline since elections started in 1979, reaching a record low in 2009. Will this year see a new record?
In addition to being the only directly elected EU body, a few other things set Parliament apart from the rest of the Brussels bureaucracy. Seemingly unbeknownst to most, it does not propose new EU legislation; the best it can do is ask the Commission to submit a proposal. Furthermore, according to its own website the EP “may approve or reject a legislative proposal, or propose amendments to it”. The Council of the European Union, however, “is not legally obliged to take account of Parliament’s opinion but (..) must not take a decision without having received it”.
So while it may be true that the European Parliament’s influence has increased over time, it is still very much an empty shell. Besides, when a political body is created that has virtually no power to make policy at all it is bound to gain such power over time, or its very existence may be justifiably questioned. Considering the fact that it is only now that this process of EU “democratization” is coming to a head it is not unreasonable to be skeptical of the motives of those that started it.
Still, the above doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface as far as making the case against the European Union. Procedures can be changed, after all, as they’ll have to be if the project is to have any legitimacy in the eyes of those enduring it. The real case against the European leviathan goes much deeper than that.
First, for all the talk about economic prosperity enabled by European integration, little consideration or attention tends to be given to the high tariffs imposed on non-EU goods. Yet high tariffs for non-EU goods drive up prices for European consumers who now have to buy a more expensive and/or inferior version of the same product. But it doesn’t stop there; the lack of European demand will cause the decline if not disappearance of those industries and businesses, reducing demand for European products. This in turn ends up hurting if not eliminating European industries and businesses that rely on exports for their survival, causing a vicious cycle.
Moreover, EU tariffs disrupt international specialization and the most efficient (market) allocation of resources. It is likely that without the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies, which make up more than half the budget, far fewer agricultural goods would be produced even as prices for consumers fall. These low-value goods that deliver low-paying jobs could then be substituted for high-value goods that require skilled, well-paid labor. Surely Europe has a competitive advantage there.
Let it be crystal clear that I am a staunch proponent of free trade and the unrestricted flow of capital, goods, and human beings. As I have pointed out here previously though, this is not something we’re supposed to thank government for. Rather it is despite government that we still have some degree of freedom to trade voluntarily beyond borders.
Second, there is a legal case to be made; each member state joined the EU (or EC) in its character as a sovereign nation, entering into a contract or treaty with other nations which was understood to benefit all of them. These contracts were signed – according to conventional wisdom, anyway – by government officials in their capacity as representatives of the people of those nations. To the extent that it may be argued that the people were then in favor of the agreement this cannot be taken as proof of their approval of the events that have unfolded since. The few indications we do have of the will of the people, such as the various referenda that were held prior to the adoption of the European Constitution, suggest that the general attitude toward Brussels may not be as favorable as it is made out to be. The recent rise of so-called “euro-skepticism” in many different countries and across the political spectrum provides further credible evidence for this hypothesis.
Third, as anyone who has spent any time traveling the Old Continent can attest, Europe houses many different peoples with their own cultures and languages. It is this diversity that makes life and travel enriching and interesting; from Irish and English pubs, wooden shoes and schnitzels in the northern part of the continent to the art, architecture, and great food in Mediterranean countries. These are the things that make Europe unique and they should not be subject to the whims of faceless bureaucrats, threatening to ban traditional Danish pastries for containing “too much” cinnamon. The best safeguard against such absurdities is decentralization of power, not the establishment of a supranational government.
*Continued in Part II (see below).