There is no doubt about what most people thought had been decided in the recent French and Dutch referendums on the EU Constitution. By a significant majority in France, and an even more decisive one in Holland, the electorates in these two core EU countries made it clear that they disapproved of the proposed EU Constitution and did not want to have it implemented. Since it had been made clear from the beginning of the process of developing the new Constitution that it had to be adopted unanimously by all EU countries or not at all, it ought to have been recognised immediately that the Constitution was dead in the water. Is this what happened? Not at all. The Commission is blithely going ahead with implementing many of the proposals which had so recently been rejected. These include such contentious matters as the establishment of an EU diplomatic corps, the creation of an EU army, making the EU Convention on Human Rights justiciable and pressing ahead with economic harmonisation projects. Such totally undemocratic behaviour is hardly surprising when the tone is set by people such as the Prime Minister of Luxembourg who expressed the view that the electorate, misunderstanding what was at stake, had really voted in favour of the Constitution.
It is, however, no accident that the EU operates in a way which makes a mockery of democracy. From its inception, the EUís founding fathers distrusted democratic politicians. Instead, they wanted the governance of what evolved from the Common Market into what is now the European Union to be in the hands of technocrats. Such democratic trappings as had to be allowed to give the organisation which developed a veneer of respectability had to look as though they gave control to the electorate while not in fact doing so. This is why, for example, the ďEuropean ParliamentĒ was so named, although it has never had the crucial function which all national parliaments have, which is to make and break governments. The result has been to create an extraordinary paradox. Although all the states making up the European Union are properly functioning democracies, the EU itself fulfils very few of the democratic criteria it requires of its own Member States. Worse still, power is steadily seeping away from the nation states to the central EU bureaucracy. In consequence, the electorates of all the nation states in the EU are becoming increasingly powerless to control their futures.
History has been full of attempts to create systems of government devoted to the welfare of the citizens rather than the wellbeing of those in power. All experience tells us, however, that the temptation for those able to do so to enhance their own power sooner or later becomes overwhelming. Furthermore, the longer those in office remain there effectively unchallenged, the worse the situation becomes. In these circumstances, it is not just a few isolated individuals who become corrupted. On the contrary, the way in which governance at large is conducted becomes permeated with an ambience which condones and encourages self-serving behaviour. The end comes to justify the means. Criticism becomes treachery - even insanity. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of cherished goals. All sense of proportion gets lost. And what does history teach us is the only effective antidote to this kind of ideological perversion? There is only one practical response. It is freely conducted elections with the power to turn out those in power who have lost the confidence of those who put them there in the first place. This is exactly what the EU lacks. The three most powerful bodies in the EU are the Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. None of them has members who are elected. No-one can vote to remove them. All three of them are effectively completely unaccountable.
In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that fraud and corruption are an endemic problem in the EU. Too many of those in power benefit from the system and the protection which each section of it offers to others makes eradication of malpractices extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Everyone knows that the Common Agricultural Policy is full of malfeasance and misappropriated funds, but almost no-one is brought to book. The scandal of inflated expenses paid to MEPs is still with us after years of exposure of the scams involved. It is now eleven years since the EUís auditors were willing to sign off the EUís accounts - hardly a surprising outcome since about 5% of the EUís budget cannot be accounted for at all and another 5% is generally reckoned to be misappropriated each year. The internal investigatory body in the EU - OLAF - is notoriously inefficient and poorly organised. Eurostat, the body responsible for the production of EU statistics, has been mired in scandal as large sums have been siphoned off into private accounts. Even Commissioners are being indicted for corrupt behaviour, setting a dismal example of the bounds of probity to their underlings, while those dismissed for incompetence - as happened to the entire Commission in 2000 - were paid off with huge severance and pension payments.
Just how difficult it is to tackle the self-serving nature of the way that Brussels runs the EU is made all too clear by the treatment meted out to those who have been brave enough to expose what is going wrong and to stand out against it. Assertions from senior Commissioners and others that serious attempts were to be made to root out fraud and corruption have been belied time after time by the way that whistle-blowers have been treated. Instead of supporting them, their allegations have been rubbished, although in all major cases compelling evidence shows that they have been only too well founded. Rather than using their evidence to track down those responsible for the abuse of their positions, those responsible for exposing malpractices have been stripped of their jobs and hounded out of the EUís service, some suffering mental breakdowns in consequence. Nor has the treatment of investigative journalists been any better, if they appear to have got too close to the truth. Some of them have been treated as unfairly and as unscrupulously as Commission employees with the same good intentions.
Undoubtedly, the major reason why it is so difficult to deal with all this network of problems is that there is now such a large politicised class in the EU who benefit enormously from the present arrangements continuing. There are thousands of highly paid Commission officials, with tax breaks, free schooling and generous pension arrangements, which anyone would envy. There is an army of lobbyists whose prosperity depends on incestuous relationships with the EU bureaucracy. There are organisations large and small all over the EU whose funding depends on EU grants. There are powerful agribusinesses who are intent on holding on to the subsidies which the EU provides to agriculture in the EU, however much damage may be done to Third World farmers as a result. Above all, there is a vast number of politicians in all Member States whose future depends in one way or another on the present system of governance in the EU remaining substantially as it is. The problem is that there is no way, as things stand at the moment, that any of this structure of mutually supporting self interest can be overturned. As a result, instead of being reformed, it is inclined to become yet more firmly entrenched.
There are huge dangers for the EU and indeed for all Member States in allowing this state of affairs to continue. The more that Brussels and all that it represents becomes decoupled from the people over whom the EU holds sway, the more difficult it will be to engineer the changes that Europe needs to enable it to compete and survive in the twenty-first century world. The EU economy, especially those parts of it in the euro-zone, is faltering, having exhibited the lowest rate of economic growth of any part of the developed world over the last decade. Unemployment is desperately high and shows no signs of declining. Demographic developments are producing an aging and falling population, with a rapidly declining percentage of those of working age, with alarming consequences for public finances generally and pensions in particular. Disparities in income, wealth and life chances are widening. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the EUís political leaders are distrusted. Without leadership capable of building a consensus, however, it is hard to see how any of these problems are to be solved.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all to be drawn from what has gone wrong with the EU is how valuable what remains of our democratic legacy really is. The circumstances in which real power - the coercive power of the state - can be transferred from one body of people to another by democratic elections, are not easy to come by. They take time to develop and they need constant nurturing. The way in which the EU has developed shows how easily they can be lost and with what dire consequences. The last three decades have exhibited a steady slide of power away from democratically accountable politicians in Britain - and other EU nation states - to unaccountable bureaucrats, bankers and judges in Brussels, Frankfurt and Luxembourg, who have failed to govern us well and who have in far too many cases abused the powers and privileges which they have been awarded. How much longer are the British people going to put up with their priceless democratic traditions being eroded in this way?