The first thing you need to know about the European Parliament is that almost everything its 766 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) do is a waste of time. This is not satire. It’s a basic, objective fact.
Apart from rubberstamping the EU’s budget, MEPs have to do remarkably little to justify their $200,000+ salary and expenses package. That’s because the EU parliament has virtually no legislative power. All the decisions that matter are made by the European Commission – a body of 27 unelected technocrats (EU Commissioners) who propose and execute almost all EU legislation.
If this sounds undemocratic that’s because it was deliberately designed to be. The founding fathers of the European Union – among them French cognac salesman Jean Monnet – recognized from the start that no sovereign nation would ever voluntarily submit to having its powers stripped away by some supranational body over whose decisions it had no control. So the European Union’s MO has always been to enlarge itself by stealth – first luring in members by posing as a beneficial free trade zone; then gradually ensnaring them with a succession of regulations from which there can never be any escape (a process known as the acquis communautaire).
That’s why insiders are only half joking when they say that if the EU were a country applying to join itself it would be rejected on the grounds of being too undemocratic. And it’s why so relatively few people turn out to vote in European elections. From Ireland to the Czech Republic they abstain in record numbers, knowing that it is literally going to make no difference which way they vote, because their elected EU representatives have no power.
Yet the corollary of the EU’s infamous “democratic deficit” is that while it may engender apathy it also creates the perfect seeding ground for a major rebellion. Unlike in national or local elections, people no longer feel compelled to vote tactically. That is, they don’t vote for someone they don’t like in order to keep the party they hate even more out of power – in US terms, say, voting for a RINO squish rather than the Tea Partier you might prefer but who doesn’t stand a chance of unseating the Dem. They vote for the party which most closely represents the things they believe in.
And in the case of Britain at least, that party right now is none of the three mainstream ones – Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats – but the maverick outsiders of UKIP (the UK Independence Party, led by shameless Thatcherite Nigel Farage).
In the British parliament, UKIP does not have a single seat, nor is it very likely to any time soon. But in the European elections at the end of May, it is now widely expected to win more seats than any of its British rivals. And this is where the European elections – hitherto of no consequence to anyone for reasons delineated above – suddenly start to get interesting and highly significant.
Why? On the face of it, it should make no difference whatsoever. UKIP’s winning candidates will end up in Brussels (or Strasbourg – depending on where the moveable EU parliament is sitting at any given time) twiddling their thumbs, snoozing gently as the latest measures over which they have no control are translated for them through headphones by the EU’s vast array of lavishly remunerated in-house linguists.
What will matter far more is the symbolism. The people of Britain will have voted, for once, with their hearts and not their heads – and finally got the kind of elected representatives who actually share the values they believe in, rather than just another bunch of remote, frankly interchangeable “LibLabCon” political time-servers, cynics, and Machiavels.
What’s really scaring that LibLabCon political class right now is that once the voting public has tasted red meat, it might want more of it. In Game of Thrones terms, this is the moment when Daenerys Stormborn shows the slaves in the city the broken shackles of those she has already freed – and the possibility begins to dawn that maybe, just maybe, there’s an alternative to the life of serfdom they had hitherto thought would be theirs till death.
The repercussions of this are going to extend far beyond Europe, for the issues are not local but global. Put simply it’s about a basic question of at least as much concern to Americans as it is to Europeans: is government your servant or is it your master?
In the European Union the answer for the last few decades has been pretty obvious. Up to 80 per cent of all new regulations in Europe’s individual members states, according to some estimates, now emanate from the democratically unaccountable technocrats of Brussels rather than from sovereign parliaments. The calculation of the Eurocrats is that the system is so entrenched, monetarily (through the Euro), economically, and politically, that there can be no turning back.
But the people – not just in Britain, but also in countries from France to Denmark to Italy where anti-EU parties are making a strong showing – appear to have other plans.
For all of us these are interesting times. Viva la revolucion!