Is big change coming to the EU?

Is big change coming to the EU?

I have been following the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe, particularly its democracy chapter which has helped shape some thoughts. I was interested to note that the US’ route to a federal republic seemed to be a harbinger for the EU’s journey. I wrote, Subsidiarity, representation and human rights, which frankly got blown of course and became a review of Prof. Mark Stoler’s lecture on the US constitution. I had drawn inspiration from the original US restriction on direct taxation and the 10th amendment which defines the powers of the federal government and those of the States, although the 10th amendment also purports to constrain the States power by defining a right of subsidiarity to the people.

This article looks at the flawed route taken by the US Constitution and forsees with hope the EU’s -and the UK’s] adoption of new rules and rights.

When I say it was blown of course, it was hoped to be a polemic for ensuring that the principle of subsidiarity ensured that the EU’s member states implemented a democracy where decisions were taken as close to the citizen and their communities as feasibly possible. The EU Treaties only promise subsidiarity between the Union and the member states, a bit like the 10th amendment and in contradiction to Article VI of the US Constitution, also known as the Federal Supremacy clause.

The EU has its democratic problems, and one of them is that theories of good political governance are dominated, at the least in the Anglosphere, by the US Constitution, even with its obvious flaws, it original racism, and its failure to consider economic justice as a constitutial right. These problems are still extant in both the US, most countries that have adopted similar constitutions but also in Europe.

I was taught and came to believe that the US separation of powers between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary was an important means of constraining power in government. This insight has recently been reinforced by observing the behaviour of the Johnson government in the UK, where the legislature would not exercise its control, and the executive sought to undermine the judiciary. But is the value of the separation of powers true?

The US Constitution is not neutral and those that seek inspiration from it need to be careful.

Recently, the Jacobin magazine published an article, called, The Constitution Is a Plutocratic Document, in which its author Robert Ovetz, argues that the taxation and public debt management functions of the proposed federal government were designed to transfer private & State debt to the Federal Govt, who then issued bonds. The private debts had often been factored and the attempts to obtain payment had caused riots, and it was becoming difficult to collect both interest and the principal. State debts had often been defaulted. The new Federal Government replaced these private debts with treasury bonds and the repayment and interest was underwritten by the tax payments of all citizens, or at least all tax payers. At this time direct taxation was prohibited to the Federal Govt.

Stohler in his lecture mentions the need to reform debt laws, Ovetz puts this into a class perspective arguing that the new federal public funding/bond issuing programme transferred the risk of private debt default to the federal state.

These measures were in addition to the constitution’s author’s fear of democracy and thus the withholding of power from the people, with indirect election to the senate and the presidency, the racist and property based qualification to vote, the gridlocked legislative process, and the complex super majority required to change the constitution. Ovetz also argues that Article VI, the federal powers article, also known as the federal supremacy clause, was designed to ensure a brake on regional radicalism. This is reinforced by the Senate where each state has two votes irrespective of its population, together with the ubiquitous use of first past the post elections, which allows minorities to win power. Furthermore, with large electorates the electoral system jeopardise the ability to win a loser’s consent. The legislative gridlock inherent in the US Constitution also makes progressive reform hard. Ovetz’s penultimate statement in the article is,

The Constitution was designed with all these pitfalls and roadblocks that make it very difficult to get the changes we need unless we give the economic elites what they want so they no longer block it. This is how the economic minority is empowered by the Constitution to impede political democracy and prevent economic democracy.

When checking the Jacobin for this piece, I also found, “Toward a Marxist Interpretation of the US Constitution” by Bertell Ollman, also in the Jacobin. This is shorter and less detailed, but makes the point that the limited view of rights, and the ideology of the wisdom of the “founding fathers” makes the constitution a brake on progressive reform.

… an important part of the Constitution’s work is ideological. As ideology, the Constitution provides us with a kind of bourgeois fairy tale in which claims to equal rights and responsibilities are substituted for the harsh realities of class domination. Through the Constitution, the struggle over the legitimacy of any social act or relationship is removed from the plane of morality to that of law. Justice is no longer what is fair but what is legal, and politics itself is transformed into the technical wrangling of lawyers and judges.

This last line, reminds me of the theories of Dr Fritz Scharpf, the abstract to his paper says,

Judge-made law has played a crucial role in the process of European integration. In the vertical dimension, it has greatly reduced the range of autonomous policy choices in the member states, and it has helped to expand the reach of European competences. At the same time, however, ‘integration through law’ does have a liberalizing and deregulatory impact on the socio-economic regimes of European Union member states. This effect is generally compatible with the status quo in liberal market economies, but it tends to undermine the institutions and policy legacies of Continental and Scandinavian social market economies. Given the high consensus requirements of European legislation, this structural asymmetry cannot be corrected through political action at the European level.

The crucial part of this abstract may be the last sentence; progressives need a flexible and accountable government that can act in a timely fashion. Linz in the “Paradox of Presidencies” criticises the US Constitution; its immutable terms of office makes it unable, unlike a parliament to allow the electorate to force a change of direction on an administration through recall. This is shown in both the USA and UK recently by the cowardice of legislators fearing retaliation from their parties and loss of their position, even for doing the right thing.

How do you defend democracy against the corruption of its political parties?

To return to my start point I can see that the EU has problems because of the Council, the veto, and the Commission’s exclusive right of legislative initiative together with a problem with subsidiarity especially on the decisions of intra-state secession and the current treaties act as a brake on devolution within the member states. At least it doesn’t have a directly elected presidency, and despite leading European Parliamentarian’s ambitions to the contrary, this is unlikely to occur soon. It does have a Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees many of the social rights missing from previous attempts to write a constitution including, the right to education, fair conditions at work, access to benefits, and healthcare.

It’s useful to be reminded that the rule of law is not always neutral.

While many of the undemocratic features of the US Constitution are replicated, some would say inspired by the UK, I have some hope that an incoming Labour Government will make some positive change, informed by the Brown Commission. Political subsidiarity, which it proposes is not enough, to back it up it is necessary to have a transfer union, and/or a solidarity contract! Having discovered that the US with its separation of powers is insufficient, I ask can we learn from the Swiss or do we need to look further afield. I am certain that Labour’s plans for further English devolution are not enough as they seem unwilling to back it with equitable funding and their target entities for devolved powers while, better than not having any, are too large for the advantages of genuine social solidarity to express itself.   …

Labour, its manifesto and the EU

Labour, its manifesto and the EU

Here is a swift call to action on Labour’s National Policy Forum, on relations with the European Union. I made an extract of the document to collect what they say. Earlier this month, Labour issued its NPF report in draft form. Members have the ability, through their local parties, to amend the this report; Labour Party members have until May 29th to notify, through their CLPs, their CLP NPF Reps of changes they want to see in the draft policy document. 

Perhaps the critical paragraph is,

An improved relationship with Europe

To deliver prosperity at home, it is vital to re-establish the UK as a trusted and reliable partner. As part of our mission for the UK to achieve the highest sustained economic growth in the G7, Labour will seek to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with Europe while maintaining its new role outside of the single market and customs union.

Labour’s NATIONAL policy FORUM dRAFT rEPORT 2023

I believe that the UK should rejoin the European Union but that a first step is that, it is necessary to rejoin the customs union and single market to alleviate and reverse the decline in economic activity and prosperity; it is now obvious to the vast majority of the UK population that this is the direction required. I also believe a failure to get the position on the EU right will jeopardise Labour’s electoral prospects.

Labour must,

1. call for a new relationship with the EU involving the adoption of the single market and customs union, including a reciprocal freedom of movement to work and that as part of this, Labour must repeal the cruel hostile environment.

2. commit to rejoin Horizon Europe and Erasmus+

3. add to the draft the recent promise to permit EU citizen/residents to vote in UK Parliamentary elections

The Labour Movement for Europe are proposing that, the Party must promise to negotiate direct access to the single market and a selective visa waiver system. We believe we must commit to the single market’s free movement of labour with no sectoral reservations but wish the LME well. We think their position will be less acceptable to the EU since their position is that the four freedoms are indivisible. To me it’s an example of our continued attachment to “Extrawurst”!

The featured image is one of mine. CC DFL 2017 BY-SA …

Assembly sizes & legislative quality

Assembly sizes & legislative quality

Sean Jones, one of the UK’s top employment lawyers, tweeted about the quality of legislation and I made a reply. I do not exactly answer his question, but I think its worth thinking about parliaments in the context of the quality of legislation. Sean says,

I reply, “It’s an interesting question, I have two thoughts to offer. Firstly, the size of the parliament matters, small parliaments are captured by the executive, large parliaments make work for idle hands. This is exacerbated in the UK, in that the executive has been captured by one faction within the winning coalition.

Secondly, if one uses the 3√ rule, which I don’t, the EU Parliament is slightly under sized, and the Commons is too large; however, there is no [politically coherent] executive within the EU.

The other question that needs to be answered in both polities is that of effective devolution/subsidiarity. If the ambition is to take decisions as close to the people it effects as is possible, neither polity gets this right.

In this blog article, I add that in the UK, the legislature is controlled by the executive, and there is no entrenched human rights law to protect the people from a growing authoritarianism. The executive’s control of time and agenda in parliament is a key tool, as is the increased use of emergency legislative schedules.

It also contains citations to the 3√ rule and the UK’s lack of elected politicians.


May elections, does the bell toll?

May elections, does the bell toll?

I have learned to wait before commenting on election results particularly since many local authorities now count on the Friday during the day to avoid the overtime bill and so unless one runs an exit poll, one can’t know until the weekend. Also, I’ve been away and avoiding the news but I wanted to make three points about the elections last week. Labour did well across the country, although there are one or two self-created greyclouds, Brexit is either less important or the pendulum has swung, and the Green’s finally get a result their positioning and polling deserves.

This is some controversy about how one projects from May 3rd to a general election which is likely to be held at least 12 months in the future. I am of the view the Labour did well and if last Thursday’s results were replicated across the country then there would be a Labour government with a solid working majority. Some disagree, and I link to the Guardian and Labour List opinions below; they both follow the Curtice line that these results are not good enough to get Labour a majority. I haven’t studied the statistical tools that they use, but if you plug the raw numbers into electoral calculus, it predicts a Labour absolute majority with a substantial Lib Dem presence in the new parliament. However, Curtice defends his view in an article in the independent, he argues that people don’t vote the same in a local election as they do for Westminster, he argues that the swing from the Tories to Labour is below that of its opinion poll lead, that winning seats in a first past the post election does not illustrate growing support, because Labour’s vote was not growing; it’s that the tories vote is collapsing.  He says,

On average across 27 constituencies where it is possible to use the BBC’s data to compare the parties’ performances in the local elections with that in the 2019 general election, the Conservative share of the vote was down 19 points while Labour’s own tally was unchanged.

Prof John Curtice, The Independent

There were some important wins, in the South of England, including the capture of Dover council by Labour and the election of one of the country’s leading refugee rights campaigners as a Labour councillor in Folkestone and Hythe. This is a good result for Labour stretching across the county. The Guardian says, about Labour,

Retaking Stoke-on-Trent and East Staffordshire councils from Conservative control, along with picking up seats and councils in the north-west, and across the West and east Midlands, suggests a potential return to Labour competitiveness in Westminster constituencies that voted heavily to leave the EU in 2016. Winning Thanet, Dover and Medway in Kent shows the post-Brexit dynamic could extend beyond the ‘red wall’, while capturing a perennial bellwether town like Swindon provides further encouragement.

The Guardian

It remains obvious that this is, like the polls, a Tory loss, and the Lib Dems and Greens both did well winning, 13 councils between them over 25% of the Tories’ losses.

EuActiv and Labour via the Guardian and Labour List are documenting the results as the return of Brexit voters to Labour.  This underestimates two factors, the first being that people have changed their minds now they see what a Tory Brexit looks like and the second being the effect of the changing demographics over the last seven years. Articulating the idea that, “your Brexit is safe with us”, or that “Brexit voters have returned to Labour” may not be as clever politics as the Labour front bench and their advisors think. Two pieces of evidence from last Thursday suggesting caution. The success of the Lib Dems and the Greens in winning council seats and vote share suggests again that tribal loyalty is weakening. Also the large cities and Scotland did not vote last Thursday; and these are areas where Labour’s young, educated and internationalist voters live i.e. while the Lib Dems seem to be taking Tory votes and seats in the shires, we have little recent evidence as to whether the core and majority of Labour’s 2019 vote will support a manifesto that only tinkers at the edges the cost of living crisis and continues to triangulate on relations with the EU. The timing of Labour’s statement on not abolishing tuition fees was particularly crass and Streeting’s defence of this appears to be a result of him reliving his past.

Furthermore the 2017 general election shows that the campaigns matter and polling leads can change dramatically. We could also consider the 1970 and 1992 campaigns which everyone expected Labour to win, but where its appeal was polluted by its anti-working class legislation and rhetoric.

Labour’s strategy seems to be based on winning back the red wall, mainly leave voting seats lost in 2019. The problem would seem to be that Labour strategists have a recidivist view of what those voters want. Their other problem being that even if they are successful in winning those seats, it takes Labour back to the 2015 results, which it lost and the risk is that in appealing to the imagined blue labour voters they will lose support in the cities (and frankly the red wall too in many of those seats the majority of Labour voters were also remain voters).

In Curtice’s response, he also says,

As well as claiming that the local election results showed that Labour was on course to win an overall parliamentary majority, Labour spokespersons were also keen to argue that they demonstrated that Sir Keir Starmer’s success in changing his party has transformed its electoral prospects. In truth, the local election results raise questions about that claim too. What is much more apparent is the scale of the public’s disenchantment with the Conservatives.

Prof John Curtice, The Independent

This is equally shown by the fact that another thing that Labour needs to worry about, is that it did badly in areas where the leadership pursued an aggressive interference in council candidate selection processes. In Liverpool, in Portsmouth and Leicester Labour lost seats to candidates that had either resigned, been expelled, or just deselected. I don’t expect the NEC to learn from this.

My final point is that the Green Party increased its vote share by two percentage points and won 481 council seats, taking control of one council and becoming the biggest party in one more.  They must now be considered a national party in contention and the media, in particular the BBC, must give them equal air time, and certainly more than the Reform Party or whatever the Faragistas are calling themselves today. …