Confessions of a PPL* Mind: The Flawed Skeleton of the EU
* Practically Perfect and Law-abiding
It is very easy to be utterly bored by the ossifying nature of revising for a law exam. The sheer length, the density of the discipline could bog down the best student into an endless cycle of internal jousting with one’s ability to keep its attention and ideas straight. However, if one dares to reflect on what is to be learnt from it, well, one just might discover new frontiers to the nebulous structure making up the foundations of modern society. Perhaps it is, as often we hear it say, corrupted at its core. A dreadful creature, desperately trying to walk a preposterous trot, forever bleeding out from cornelian dilemmas opposing the interests of some against the interest of others. But someone must well write these laws (be them biased or not) - perhaps Cicero was right; “The more laws, the less justice”. I, however, think of it as a skewed practice very echoing of its human origin, whatever the Kantians might want to argue. The law is a flawed mechanism by which we try to stipulate what we deem to be moral at a said time. As for our moral laws, always adamant about being changed until they do, the legal mechanism dresses in a robe of intellectual and scientific rigour, because who would follow an open-ended rule closing in ellipses… Therefore, it might be in its nature to deceive us and our duty to question it; for the law should be the framework to exercise our freedom, not an apparatus to be used by the legally literate.
A very distinctive article series was written recently by a PPE student (Sziszi Andrási) with the purpose to comprehensively explain the grander designs powering and articulating the European marionette. Very saliently, we got to understand this entity through a Political, Philosophical and Economic lens and perhaps understand how very withered this institution could be interpreted to be. Now as a PPL student, I had to bring to the fight the tetchy legal approach and, who knows, maybe bring a hint to the whys and who’s of the ongoing failure of the Eurozone. Perhaps I also needed to make a stand against those who endlessly call for an “EU delenda est” (Europe must be destroyed, here interpreted as the European Union).
But as endless streams of stogie writings made for the few people who read these articles at length would no doubt damage the essence of this paper, I shall make it more enticing by framing the remaining words dedicated to this topic as a policy proposal supported by two quotes from the infamous book “The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli. I must put here a disclaimer on my capacity to correctly analyse all the phenomenon carving what we today call “our reality”.
REFORM THE ARTICLE 7 TEU
“And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”
- Machiavelli, The Prince
Lorenzo de' Medici (1149 - 1492)
A recurring trap awaits those who enjoy spending the remaining sunlight of their afternoon readings the works of the greats. After a little while, and if one is not cautious, it is very likely that one might mistake the opinions of these great authors for imperious arguments needing no questioning. Of course, it would require a certain amount of brain, energy and commitment to oppose a well-constructed and original argument to Mill’s Utilitarian account. I do not believe that the majority of students does not rely on the work of other equally great authors to criticise the former. But we do well to take their reflections as an invitation to considering different perspectives rather than use them as bona fide account of our reality. Your argument should be utilising these author’s arguments as an insight, a framework on which to build yours. Otherwise, one would be depriving oneself of the highest sense of independence of thought that one should always seek to have.
I here use a reference to Machiavelli’s Prince and the account he made in the intricacies of governing and government. The European Union is currently suffering from a disastrous legitimacy crisis. “The paper tiger” they dare call it, and this account would not be far from the truth.
Since 2016 the Polish and Hungarian governments have been in open defiance against EU institutions and the principles forming the bedrock on which this community has been built. Two of these are the value of democracy and the rule of law which have been repeatedly attacked by the infamous Polish PiS party in Poland through the executive action of changing the age of retirement of supreme judges in the supreme court.
Now it would seem that such an action would not be seen as extraordinarily problematic by most people. Still, we should bear in mind that judges of national supreme courts have the responsibility of validating whether a bill is constitutional or not, having them on your side would, henceforth, be extremely useful. Should one be hiding malign intents, it could even be catastrophic.
Now, one could argue that it is within their right as a sovereign nation to decide what kind of “age of retirement” they want their judges to have. Let us say for the sake of the argument that it would not matter that much.
The EU has been painfully slow at dealing with this issue which is a clear breach of Article 2 of the EU constitution. Again, legal lingo, but Article 2 is crucially important in that it states the common values shared within the Union and that, if not upheld, could have dramatic ramifications. The latter already materialised in Hungary with the crackdown made by the Hungarian government on Free Press and minorities rights. Yet, regardless of the dramatic ongoing situation, the EU nonchalantly follows every tiny procedure further entrenching the Union in a crisis from which it cannot escape until one of the two parties gives up.
How to solve that? There is an article within the EU constitution called Article 7 and designed to tackle these situations. It is now composed of three different stages, the last one being the trigger of potential economic and political sanctions against the faulty member state. It hasn’t so far been fully activated and the first and second steps are now still, years after having been triggered in the first place, ongoing assessment by the EU commission. The quote mentioned above now makes sense - "since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” The EU is, right now, a paper tiger. It will never be seen as legitimate until it acts against recalcitrant states. It seems evident that to appreciate something; we must fear to lose it or at least know that we can. Article 7, which as of now does not include the possibility for a Member state to be excluded, should be reformed to include the latter option. The European Community is a gift and the opportunity for several countries to achieve greater political integration and aim for a balanced standard of living throughout the European continent. But it should never be forced upon anyone, and most certainly, it should always strive to uphold the values on which it was founded. If this intent is not reflected within its laws, then the EU is doomed.
REFERENDUM, REFERENDUM, REFERENDUMS
“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”
- Machiavelli, The Prince
Protest for women's vote, 1918
People are change-averse; most of the time they rather stick with a shaky system rather than risk an utter change to their way of life. A perfect example is the time it took to people in the developed world to start recycling or start taking into account their carbon footprint (allegedly not that great of concern just yet). A similar thing might be happening with the European Union. Yes, it has been zealously engaging in European affairs since the end of the Second World War. But it never really replaced the nations states that preceded it. To this day, a French citizen is a French citizen and belongs to French territory, and so it is for Polish, Italian, Greeks etc… The mere concept of nation-states keeps being regurgitated every once we confront a political or economic crisis. That is who we are. We seek support from those we identify with and, for now, we are still a long way away from having a Dutch and a Portuguese stating that they are brothers based on their citizenship of the European Union.
The keystone to solving this issue is one of legitimacy. In the grand democracy, the EU seems entitled to argue it is to acknowledge its citizens and the opinion they are voicing. Of course, it would be preposterous to say that the people are always rights and the idea that it could lead to a “Tyranny of the majority” as suggested by John Stuart Mill is very preponderant within the intellectual elites in Brussel. But ignoring their voice is opening the door to those who seek to deceive it; “the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones” says Machiavelli.
A new system without legitimacy is a free target for those who aspire to go back to the world of before, a world of proud nation-states and of colonial empires, a world which provoked 2 World Wars. The consequences of the Lisbon treaty and the utter outrage a great many citizens throughout the EU felt when it was passed in force by the Council bolstered the clout of such political parties like UKIP and PiS. Because why would one identify with technocratic elites in Brussel who don’t respect their vote, when it could back the sometimes demagogical but terribly thrilling ideas of local nationalist parties? In a world where individualistic sentiments inherited from our economic system are slowly making their way inside every component of our society and culture, more and more people are trying to belong and identify with something. Be it their culture, sex, race or, indeed, nationality. In this world, I fear there might be no place for an illegitimate institution - even more so for an institution to which only a selected elite can really identify with and support.