Regular readers are familiar with Henrik Ræder Clausen, who runs the English-language side of Europe News, and frequently contributes comments and guest-posts to Gates of Vienna.
Henrik is now running for the European Parliament as a candidate for Dansk Folkeparti (the Danish People’s Party), and, since we have a lot of Danish readers, he presents his candidacy here in his own words.
Why I am running for the European Parliament
Running for the European Parliament is no small task, and during the process I sometimes come to wonder why I do this at all. Isn’t there a more convenient way to live, is this really necessary? This essay is an explanation of what drives me to do this, and what does not.
The quest for political power?
Nope. Political power is overrated, and not a worthwhile pursuit in itself. The ultimate goal of government should be to enable citizens to rule their own lives, as freely as possible, without infringing on the right of other citizens to do likewise. Political power should be a means to that end, not a goal unto itself.
Making a living?
With all the (relevant) talk of high salaries and undeserved perks for EP members, I guess I need to address this one: Not this, either. I have a well-paying job, good colleagues and flexible working hours. If things in Europe were fine and dandy, I would make a fortune writing more amazing computer code or advising how to optimize processes by means of Lean methodology. The pay for a parliamentarian is high, for sure, but so are the expenses, as you have lots of travels, hotels and dinners to pay for.
Actually, being a parliamentarian is not good for your health, your waistline nor your family life. If I thought everything was fine and dandy in Europe, that the future of my child and those of others was secure, I would be settling down to have more children and enjoy raising them. But things are not fine, and we need to take care of that. Relaxation and comfort will have to wait for later.
I’m fine without it. Thank you.
What really matters here is the state of Europe. The problems with immigration and radical Islam are well known, and are being tackled with less-than-desirable skill by our governments. Private initiatives, like the bloggers and the International Free Press Society, are faring much better — and at a significantly lower cost, too. That is a hot issue, but it is being tackled by a lot of courageous and highly skilled people.
Behind this lies a different problem, of much more subtle nature, and visible only to those who have a keen eye for what democracy is and how it works. The European Union really isn’t a democratic system. This could be all fine and dandy — NATO, to compare with something, isn’t a democratic system either, and has worked well for decades in defending the democracies. NATO is a joint organisation based on sovereign nation-states, and it respects the sovereignty of the member states just fine. For instance, NATO doesn’t interfere with the somewhat suspicious state of democracy in Turkey, and even abstained from objecting to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, in spite of it being at odds with article 8 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
– – – – – – – – –
The European Union, on the other hand, has the appearances of being a democracy. There is a parliament, an executive (the Commission) and a court (ECJ), which in combination make it look like the European Union has the division of power typical of true democracies. However, the actual division of responsibilities differs in significant ways from that of a normal democracy, rendering the Commission and its staff unduly powerful in the system. It can’t be dismissed like a government in a parliamentarian system, either. Worst of all, the three branches do not constitute a system of ‘checks and balances’, where each branch would be seeking to limit the amount of power held by the other branches. Further institutions like the council of ministers complicate the system, but the aggregate problem becomes this: The institutions of the European Union work in consort to consolidate more power among themselves, dismantling the sovereignty of the nation-states in the process.
Does dismantling the nation-states constitute a problem?
It sure as H*** does! Democracy works well in nation-states that have a reasonable uniformity in culture and a tradition of mutual trust and respect. Nation-states have national newspapers and radio/television stations, where news and opinions can be exchanged, followed and reacted upon, by the citizen as well as by the politician. The European Union has no comparable pan-European press used by the average citizen. Language and local differences preclude such press from being a rational business endeavour in the first place.
Further, the European Union is large. By population, it is smaller only than China and India, and larger than the United States of America. Running governments in states this large is very complex, as you have to take into account a wealth of details that do not lend themselves easily to uniform regulation. None of these states are in a healthy democratic state. I’ll discuss only the European Union here.
I found out about the structural problems of the European Union by reading The Great Deception by Booker & North. This book traces the origins of the Union, the hidden agenda, and elaborates on the problematic idea of creating a European constitution to replace the national ones. At 600 pages, it isn’t exactly lean, but it sure is a page-turner. That audacious book was introduced to me by good friends of mine (Hi E!), and made a difference. I had been noticing for a while that the Union was making bad decisions, like inviting Turkey for membership, and through the work of Booker & North understood some core problems leading to this.
I like democracy
I like the notion that the citizens of any given state have the ultimate power to decide how their state is run. That’s democracy, literally translated ‘Rule by the people’, and it’s good. Given a sufficiently level of education, no better system of government has been devised yet. One may distinguish between ‘Democracy’ and ‘Republic’, the latter defined by having a strong constitution to limit the power of politicians, but that is somewhat immaterial in context.
The European Union is a legally binding cooperation among states. The ‘legally binding’ aspect means that any state has an unconditional obligation to follow the decisions made by the Union, effectively rendering the EU a superstate with the power to decide pretty much anything it desires in its member states. Decisions can be taken by majority voting, where a state does not have the right to veto any particular decision, or by a procedure that has this option. Recent treaties move large areas of competence into majority voting, effectively cancelling the right of any state to have the final word in those areas.
The European Court of Justice is a noteworthy player in this field. It has a special role in interpreting legislation, in particular vague legislation, and it routinely does so in a fashion that grants more power to the Union. There is no method for the member states to challenge rulings from the European Court of Justice. This is a problem for the reason that the ECJ is not only interpreting current law, it is also introducing radical reinterpretations, effectively creating new law based on court rulings, not parliamentary decisions.
A compounding problem is the lack of options for citizens who want to influence the decisions being made. Sure, we get to vote. And that’s it. For ordinary citizens to make a difference, contacting the Commission, the MEPs, or other institutions is not particular rewarding. Usually — and I’ve tried this personally — one gets an explanation of how the Commission has already considered every relevant aspect of a problem, that things are being watched closely, and that there is no need for citizens to be worried about the process.
That’s arrogance, and it’s demotivating. The most lucid example came from the OneSeat (www.oneseat.eu) campaign that made the very simple request that the European Parliament should save the trouble and expense of having two seats to move between, one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg. That request is backed by more than 1,250,000 signatures, but was nonetheless dismissed by the EU system. Which should, in order to demonstrate respect for the citizen, have grabbed the opportunity and fixed the legal problems.
EU is a law-machine
The above is but one example of the ‘democratic deficit’ of the Union. This deficit used to attract some attention, but that attention waned without any real reforms being implemented. The Union is basically being run by civil servants, who make sure that everything issued from the Union is based on law (or at least the EU interpretation of the law), The direct opinion of citizens is of secondary concern to the Union, and the Commission in particular, as it is not directly responsible to voters.
What the European Union produces is legislation. Directives, regulations, recommendations, and framework decisions. This legislation will in turn be transformed into national legislation, to render it equivalent to national legislation and enforced by national courts.
In an interesting procedure known as ‘pre-judicial cooperation’, the national courts routinely ask the European Court of Justice for ‘advice’ concerning how to rule in cases related to Union law. The ECJ then tells the national court what to decide, and the result is presented as a national court decision, even though it originates from the European Court. This is a system informally known as ‘Engranage’, where the European Union discreetly directs the work and decisions of national institutions, while the latter still appear to be purely national, and are funded by national budgets as well.
Now, the European Union routinely produces more laws, and the national parliaments are obliged to implement them. Some 80+ percent (Germany: 84 percent) of the laws presented in national parliaments originate from the European Union. These laws keep regulating the lives of citizens, and they keep stacking up, rarely or never being abolished.
One particularly objectionable piece of regulation is the “Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia”, which obliges member states to implement strict laws against the expression of opinions in these categories. This decision limits the rights granted by the Danish Constitution, and are as such simply not constitutional in Denmark. It will be interesting to see how this plays out — will our parliament stand for our Constitution, or will it give in to the demands of the Union?
We need a leaner — much leaner — European Union
There is a plethora of ridiculous regulation from the Union. Exporting duck eggs, for one, is subject to a directive of 26,000 words, all in the name of the Inner Market. This is not really a free market, it is an intensely regulated market, where products can be traded freely only if they adhere to very detailed EU standards. This over-regulation may be good for the larger manufacturers, but it causes a lot of burdens for smaller ones and start-ups.
Agricultural subsidies should never have been implemented. They were initiated in the late 60’s to replace national subsidy systems, but that was a mistake right from the outset, channeling perfectly useful money from worthy purposes such as research and technology into surplus production of grain, butter and wine, usually of poor quality. This system has also led to extreme overpricing of soil and farms, creating a huge exposure to the financial markets, interest rates and so on. The system is unhealthy and should be abolished.
This is not possible at the moment
The problem here is that the reforms are not coming. Instead, ever-increasing amounts of political power is being transferred to the Union, to the point that there is basically no subject where that it is clearly barred from deciding over the member countries. This trend continues with the Lisbon Treaty, while the problems of the ‘democratic deficit’ remain unresolved.
The obvious issues, like subsidies and the two seats of parliament, should be easy to resolve, were the opinion of European citizens taken seriously and acted upon. The fact that this does not happen points to a deeper problem:
The need for structural reforms
This is the crux of the matter. When the EU institutions have developed this tradition for not respecting the opinion of the citizen, the institutions themselves are in need of deep reform. Reforms that would turn the Union into a true democracy, not merely a nominal one. Legitimacy is ultimately derived from citizens, not from creative interpretations of the law. The current situation leans much too much on complex legal issues, and does not — by a long shot — take the concerns and opinions of the citizens seriously.
We need a reformed EU, which has obvious public legitimacy. The Lisbon Treaty is a killer move against this legitimacy and needs to be abolished. Instead, we need true reforms. Reforms designed by people who understand the nature of democracy, the way the makers of our constitutions (the Danish is a good one) created lean, understandable and workable constitutions.
This is the reason I run for EP
Being critical of the European Union is relatively easy, once the fundamental problems are identified. Exposing undeserved perks and downright fraud is part of the work, but not at the heart of it. What really matters is identifying a way to reform the system, so that it will respect the honest opinions of the citizens, rather than try to change opinions to adhere to what the system wants. One way to do this is to return a significant amount of political power to the national parliaments, which are more transparent and part of active democratic processes than is the EU system.
Devising a strategy for reform is my ultimate goal in running for the European Parliament. One needs to understand the system properly in order to devise relevant reforms. Standing on the outside looking in simply isn’t good enough.
On a related note, we need allies for such a reform. The other member states have the same problems, and some fine people are aware of the problems and motivated to work on them. Forming alliances with friends in other countries is vital to initiating a genuine reform process.
Finally, we need to make the workings, and the need for reform, clear to the general public. Writing home, showing the faults of the system and proposing improvements, would be one of my most important activities from the parliament. We need public support in any democracy, and we need public support to change the state of things, to turn the Union into a democratic system.
Failing that, Denmark should consider a withdrawal from the Union. In the lack of reforms, the member states will probably start revolting over time, when vital national interests are challenged. First in small ways, but if the Union reacts inappropriately, such as with repression, the revolts are sure to grow, and might eventually threaten the stability of the entire system, should it prove sufficiently resistant to reform and to the needs of member states.
With me so far?
Even a short article about the European Union tends to become quite long. If you are with me still, chances are you understand the problems and appreciate the need for reforms. Since only Danish voters are eligible to vote for me on June 7th, the remaining paragraphs will be in Danish.
En kritisk stemme d. 7. juni
Hvis du vil høre mere om de demokratiske problemer i EU, være med til at udvirke reformer, og gøre EU til et sandt og levende demokrati, vil jeg opfordre dig til at stemme på mig ved valget d. 7. juni. Det vil være en stemme for et slankere og mere åbent EU. En stemme for at få reformeret systemet radikalt, så borgerne -og især danskerne — igen kan føle, at de har magten og det sidste ord om, hvad der bliver vedtaget og hvordan deres lande styres.
En vigtig del af det er at forstå, hvad der foregår. Derfor, og fordi demokratiske reformer skal have bred folkelig forståelse og opbakning, er mit vigtigste valgløfte simpelt: Jeg lover at skrive hjem.
Jeg vil opfordre til at møde frem og stemme ved valget d. 7. juni. Og jeg vil opfordre til at sætte krydset ved Dansk Folkeparti, der sikrer at vi forbliver i eget hus. Bliver jeg valgt, er mit løfte at skrive hjem på forståeligt dansk, så alle kan følge med i, hvad der sker. Hvad der bør ske er simpelt, omend ikke nemt:
Vi skal reformere EU til at fungere efter demokratiske principper.
Med venlig hilsen
Henrik Ræder Clausen
Kandidat til Europa-Parlamentet (DF)