In 2005, the French were readying to decide on a referendum whether they approved or not the ratification of the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which aimed to deepen integration between member states of the European Union. Ahead of the referendum vote, Jean Claude Juncker, who was at the time the prime minister of Luxembourg and holder of the rotating EU presidency, made a declaration in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that revealed the true nature of the EU.
He said, "If it's a ‘Yes,’ we will say 'on we go,' and if it's a ‘No’ we will say 'we continue.’"
No, you are not dreaming. This is not a quote by an Arab or an African dictator holding a referendum to merely maintain the illusion that their rule is democratic. This is a quote by the current President of the European Commission, in charge of over more than 500 million people.
The European Union, by nature, by definition, is undemocratic. It is ruled by technocrats who do not represent the people and are not held accountable before the people. “We all know what to do, we just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it,” summarized by our friend Juncker as he discussed the eurozone economic policy in 2007.
One might be able to argue that the people are simply stupid or, in any case, they are not educated enough to make decisions about issues as complex as economic or social policies. Instead, what should be argued for are technocrats and experts working for the good of the people, without even consulting them.
But history provides us with countless episodes of the economic establishment failing to advocate for the right policies or predict economic trends. Furthermore, who sets the standard that determines what is “good” for the people? How do we decide on desired policy outcomes without taking into account the aspirations of the people directly affected by said policies?
It remains that justifying the power of the EU bureaucrats by pointing to their expertise is a highly hypocritical argument. In fact, the EU technocrats do not act in a purely rational way thanks to their innate knowledge, but instead act according to the neo-liberal economic model that primarily serves the interest of multinational corporations, big banks and financial institutions. For example, negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the U.S. have been carried out in total secrecy, behind closed-doors and under intense lobbying from multinational corporations.
In a nutshell, nothing legitimizes the power of the EU bureaucrats, and power in Europe must go back to the people. But the question is, under what form? Should Europe pursue its integration that will ultimately lead to a federal state while democratizing its institutions? Or should it instead revert back to a system of cooperation between sovereign nation-states?
In order to answer that question, we need to look back at 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Social Contract, one of the foundational political theory works of Western democracy. According to Rousseau, in order to put an end to the anarchy and injustice of a world of limited resources, men must sign a Social Contract with which they agree to abandon unlimited natural liberties and respect law and order. Nevertheless, men do not become the slaves of these laws because these laws would be the expression of the general will, that is, the will of each individual aiming at achieving the common good. Thus, the state would be the representative of the general will.
Such a social arrangement is only possible if there is common understanding of the “common good.” In other words, only nation-states in which people share a common language, culture, mentality, collective memory, historical narrative, but also purpose and destiny to fulfill in the world (for example, in the case of the U.S., spreading freedom) can achieve such a social arrangement. Only nations can be democracies.
By voting to exit the European Union, the British people has proven to itself, to Europe and to the world that it is possible for the peoples of Europe to regain their liberty and their sovereignty for which they fought so hard in the past.
Many have argued that what primarily motivated the majority of the British voters to leave the EU was not the recovery of their sovereignty, but a xenophobic rejection of immigration. But whenever a people seeks to take back control of its border, it is fully exercising its sovereignty as a nation. For example, a democratic nation-state might decide to limit immigration in order to make sure that the people immigrating to its territory assimilate to the nation, thus preserving the soul of the nation.
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I believe that the only viable European political project would be the creation of a “community” based on cooperation between the European states. Such a community would be all but xenophobic, because, in the words of French essayist and journalist Natacha Polony, “respecting difference means building Europe by linking together its differences and the liberty of its peoples.” Far from being regressive, such a community would take into account the reality of Europe, and carry Europe towards the future.
Emile Riachi is a Trinity sophomore.