Monday, 11 January 2016

On Supranationalism

This is going to be a long post – just read the pictures, maybe the summary. Or just don’t bother.
In my last post, I tried to give a little historical context on nationalism – mainly to dispute the reputation given to it by the EU establishment and many UK politicians (historically, nationalism has been far more associated with self-determination than domination, and I believe that it is wrong to put them on the same spectrum). I could have gone on for at least twice the length that I did, but I realised that it was very unlikely that anyone would read the whole thing even at the 3,000 words it was on, so I decided to kill it (this one nearly reached 4,000). Here is the opposite, an attempt to place supranationalism in historical context.

The supranationalist position is a rejoinder to nationalism – it is founded on the abject fear of nationalism and the need to prevent war rather than any intrinsic benefits of supranationalism. Only later, with globalisation, has an economic argument asserted itself. There are two wings of supranationalism – the economic end is held up by the idea that we need supranational bodies to regulate trade, which, to be honest, is only so much horseshit (because exactly the same regulatory results can be achieved by intergovernmental cooperation) while the political end is caught up entirely in an abject fear of future genocide and world war.

The ideology of supranationalists is fundamentally based on the assertion that the world has moved on, making nationalism dangerous and irrelevant – due the destructive effects of the last war and advances in technology, we can and must pull together as a human race, which in practice means the subjugation of our right to autonomy under an ever-increasingly barrage of global and regional bodies designed to stop us bashing the hell out of each other yet again.

Supranationalism is everywhere. It is the kind of crap in whose paradigm The Economist wallows, along with Keynesianism and a totally unmerited respect for Marxism (which even if not followed, gives far too much respect for an ideology which, after 170 odd years of being proven wrong time and time again, really does deserve to eat shit and die for the misery that it has wrought upon the world). All of these –isms tend to be quackery, by which I mean an idea which due its repetition and the dogmatic prestige attached to it by its followers, is widely accepted uncritically as gospel despite not being proven and very often not undergoing adequate peer review.

A complex graph outlining how Keynesian economics functions

Take Keynesianism, for example – it must empirically be wrong because after 70 years of running our economy on more or less Keynesian lines, the outcomes have fallen far shorter than the aims. I only dabble in economics (a genteel way of saying that I sometimes feel the need to give my money away to William Hill), but I can tell that there must be a crippling weakness in Keynesian theory – otherwise we wouldn’t have ended up in the position where we are now, with central banks holding interest rates at rock bottom, exponential increases in the monetary base (conjuring money into existence – what was stimulus has become life support, a desperate last-ditch attempt to inflate asset prices) and a vast, ever-increasing debt mountain in both the private and public sectors, with the UK economy having to have created roughly 2-4% of new debt for every 1% of GDP growth since the war. That this bollocks is still ongoing without serious questions being asked is a measure of the prestige attached to a theory – of course, governments love Keynesianism because it amounts to carte blanche in terms of spending money that you do not have and have no conceivable chance of ever producing (but what does that matter? – you’ll be out of office in five to ten years).

I cut short shrift with the economic argument because it holds no water – as Dr. North has pointed out time and time again, supranational government is not necessary for economic harmonisation. Institutions which provide a mechanism for inter-governmental cooperation probably are necessary (e.g. UNECE, CODEX, etc.), but this does not need a fundamental transfer of sovereignty and the creation of all-encompassing new political bodies. The supranational body we are talking about, the EU, is only a regional body in a global system anyway – it does not go nearly far enough to solve the basic problem which politicians purport that it solves in creating common regulations because its writ can only apply to Europe not the all-important international supply chain. In practice, the EU gets involved in the creation of global regulations under the auspices of truly international bodies anyway (the EU is a law-taker, not a law-maker), and these bodies are grounded in inter-governmental cooperation rather than supranationalism.

In other words, the EU implicitly acknowledges the redundancy of its own economic position everyday by taking part in that which its proponents are adamantly opposed to us doing as a nation. In the 1950s and 1960s, the creation of a single market may well have been facilitated by the forerunners of the EU, but now, in 2016, globalisation has long ago overtaken the usefulness of that model.

The fall-back position for this obvious failing is that the EU gives us greater negotiating clout if we negotiate as a bloc (Clegg’s emphasis not mine). The blunt fact is that being in a bloc adds little – a minority say in larger negotiating position ties us into pushing things we might not like and prevents us forming common interest groups to cooperate on certain issues – there is literally no reason why we would not be able to cooperate with the EU, or anyone else, in pushing for commonly-held interests in global bodies post-Brexit for greater ‘clout’ should we need it. Moreover, our current position stops us walking away if what is being pushed is potentially very damaging. All of this is quite apart from the democratic cost.

Anyway, it is the geopolitical end of supranationalism that interests me more. In the last post, I pointed out that nationalism did not cause the two world wars and the atrocities that went with them other than as a limited factor among others; anyone who still believes Fischer’s thesis (that German nationalism was inherently to blame for the First World War) needs to read at least some of the 50 years of historical scholarship that has taken place between his time of writing and now.

A German cartoon about something - I really don't know, but it just seemed relevant

It is becoming increasingly clear that the First World War happened, not because of powers succumbing to popular jingoism or harbouring long-term plans at world domination, but because a diplomatic failure stemming in the outcome of the Franco-Prussian war triggered a crisis in which each power was forced to mobilise defensively (or what they believed was defensively), which in the case of Germany was perceived to entail a pre-emptive attack on France, which in turn caused global conflagration.

The Second World War happened because of the poor handling of the end of the first – a restrictive treaty was placed on Germany without the economic or military means/desire to cripple her beyond taking action against this treaty, causing the creation of a huge, aggressive grievance in the form of Hitler (along with several other factors, like the rise of communism and a couple of economic collapses).

The end of the Second World War was a totally different scenario from the first. Namely, the allies divided and occupied Germany, launching a de-Nazification process (which was rendered largely unnecessary when the shocking crimes of the Nazi regime came to light during the Nuremberg trials, as opinion polling from the period shows) and making it abundantly clear who was wearing the trousers, or at least that it would now be the Americans and the Russians fighting over who wore the trousers, not Germany.

There was no significant grievance created – Germans accepted that Hitler had clearly played a major role in starting the war, that German institutions had acted atrociously, completely outside the bounds of fledgling international law, that there was no power vacuum (as the West and the USSR put effort into running the place, largely because of the friction between each other), there was no prolonged economic slump beyond a few years due to the Marshall Plan, and there was no punitive treaty that could not be enforced. While the Treaty of Versailles had provoked uproar in Germany by having a War Guilt Clause written into it blaming Germany for the conflict, it seemed as though the Germans could not feel guilty enough after the Second World War.

And yet, these cataclysmic events are often cited by Europhiles, many going as far as to imply that the presence of nation states was a cause of the Holocaust, or that supranationalism is required to prevent another Verdun. If their arguments are to hold any water at all, they would have to prove that the presence of self-determining nation states acted as a proximate cause to the Holocaust/World Wars, establishing a chain of causation, and they would have to establish a likely chain of response following a Brexit which would lead to a similar state of affairs developing. Of course, they cannot do this because there is little historical evidence to support such a position. But then again, they don’t care; they have already assumed what they seek to prove.

The main flaw with supranationalism is that it forces multiple strong identities into the same set of political and legislative institutions. Necessarily, wealthier partners are grouped with poor ones, populous partners with small ones, and powerful partners with pathetic ones. Whether this state of affairs can practically work to everyone’s benefit is highly doubtful in itself because it must be assumed that identities lapse into self-interest, but the crux of the issue is in the tensions and grievances generated between the multiplicity of identities.

For a start, the wealthier, larger and more powerful partners always have more influence in shaping communal decisions. This is a given – you can look at any supranational organisation to see that this is the case. The security council of the UN, Russia in the USSR, Serbia in Yugoslavia, Austria and Hungary in the aptly named Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia in the German Empire, and yes, Germany in the EU. When it is not the case that a powerful identity wields significant influence (mainly because they are excluded from power by other groups), they will seek to gain it, often by force, or secede – e.g. the Shi’ites in Iraq, everyone apart from the Alawites in Syria, Biafrans in Nigeria, Catalans/Basques in Spain, etc. – sovereignty is the greatest commodity that groups fight over.

A Germano-centric Europe 

The EU tries to sidestep the identity issue by keeping skeleton nation states in place, but in reality, the undefined role of the nation state within an evolved EU generates friction because it creates a potential conduit through which identities can be expressed. If the machinery of even one of the EU nation states were to fall into the hands of anti-EU forces, it would cause serious problems. At present, most of the opposition to the EU is either democratic or negligible – if the EU were to resort to repression, it could potentially turn violent (e.g. terrorism, rioting, etc.).

The likelihood of an EU state falling into anti-EU hands is intrinsically linked to the opposition felt by minority or unrepresented identities towards central policies – either as opposition to German domination or the EU itself. It is dependent on circumstance and the EU’s reaction to circumstance.

At present, the EU’s writ is exceedingly powerful because it is perceived as necessary by all of the states – while they may not like some policies, they like the free movement, the free trade and many of the states feel that they are not big enough to ‘go it alone.’ The trouble with opinions and zeitgeists like this is that they change – often very rapidly. The EU has overcome every crisis since its inception – if it were perceived to fail, the consequences would be very damaging. The presence of institutions (nation states) that express the powerful identities within the bloc makes the scope of any anti-EU position that is able to seize power infinitely more potent.

Hence, the EU, despite all of the expensive glass buildings in Brussels and the colossal budget, is a very unstable organisation – it has to strike a balance between advancing its own interests and alienating the volatile national identities on which it is built. So far, the tensions within the model have mainly been kept underground – the EU has not faced any crises that it has not been able to deal with, or at least sweep under a rug somewhere, and national governments keep a façade of sovereignty. Yet, this could all change.

I can identify three challenges off the top of my head that could potentially destabilise the EU to crisis point: migration, economics and the presence of a viable alternative. Obviously, more could arise.

The migration question, namely concerning the incoming refugees from the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans, represents a challenge to the EU because it highlights a gap in between the perception of Eastern and Western European governments (who dominate the EU). Eastern Europe doesn’t want them (and by and large, they do not want Eastern Europe); Western Europe does, or at least, does not object. Another problem is that the issue has cast light on the perceived influence of Germany in the EU establishment, with Merkel becoming a bogeyman (or bogeywoman in these gender-equal times) in the eyes of many Eastern European countries. The EU’s reaction is widely perceived as inadequate, too late or diametrically the opposite of what people want.

The migration question is so important because for one of the first times, it puts what could well be a majority of people in many countries against the EU’s policies, in the clear knowledge that the policies come from the EU (or should because it is a European issue), on something that they care very deeply about. Already, after one million refugees, the problem has affected polling and dominates political discourse across Europe – there are a further nine million reportedly waiting to come, almost certainly tied in the public mind to further terrorist/lack-of-integration incidents like the Paris attacks or the Cologne New Year’s Eve debacle. It is difficult to see how the EU can possibly deal with this smoothly, without taking criticism and raising opposition against itself.

The economic situation is probably more important than the migration question. The effects of the 2007 crash have been swept under a rug by enormous central bank/government intervention (globally, but especially in Europe – e.g. Greece). But, the debt is all still there (and growing rapidly), and if another crisis were to arise, the ensuing problems would be of much larger proportions. Given that interest rates are roughly 0 and base money has expanded even now beyond rational economics, it is becoming more and more clear that the central banks would be almost powerless to intervene.
For a supranational entity such as the EU, this would be cataclysmic should it occur (we might no longer be talking about a Greek Crisis, but a France Crisis) – and it is difficult to see how the EU would emerge from any situation of such magnitude unscathed. Even the Greek Crisis has marked a newly-rekindled enmity between Greeks and Germans – any future crises would have a similarly national bent between rich countries and poor countries.

If another global recession hit soon (and let’s face it, one will – no one has believed in an end to boom and bust since that sage, Gordon Brown, who coincidentally is also a supranationalist Europhile), it would mark a duden – the German translation of the English ‘shitstorm’ of epic proportions.

I believe that British swearwords, finely crafted over 1,000 years of tradition and bashing the French, are the best in the world. They are our gift to the world, a part of our great internationalist legacy along with liberalism, the rule of law and democracy. We are to swearwords what Germans are to cars – ‘scheisse’ frankly sounds comical and ‘putain’ and its Spanish derivative don’t make grammatical sense unless used in very specific circumstances, as well losing out on all of the sharp plosives that the ‘big three’ (F, S, and of course, the C-bomb) utilise in abundance to such devastating and satisfying effect, let alone all of the different variations. It can only give me great pleasure to see that the Germans are finally cottoning on to this fact and are generating words to take account.

Malcolm Tucker - the 'other' Shakespeare - one of our most powerful, yet unappreciated, linguistic pioneers
Anyway, back to the point, there is a strong chance that various members of the Eurozone would bleed out faster than a haemophiliac getting hit by a train if a recession came to pass, and the Eurozone would have to deal with the consequences of that, if it even could.

The final problem I mentioned would be the presence of a viable alternative. The easier it would be to leave an organisation such as the EU, the more unstable is its intrinsic powerbase. This was the reason for the 2 year time limit on article 50 – the EU is trying to set itself up as a gargantuan Hotel California. This is also the reason behind suspected attempts to coerce EFTA into the EU framework (to force Norway et al. to adopt a British model at the next treaty).

If, however, Britain were to vote to leave in 2017 and managed to push the regulatory system governing Europe into prominence successfully, countries in the EU would have a binary choice – free market with political subservience to the EU or free market without political subservience to the EU. A no-brainer for anyone who isn’t following politicians’ logic. The opportunity cost of leaving the EU would have decreased to the extent that it would now be remaining that was the cost, all other things being equal (by which I mean talking about ends, not painful means to those ends like leaving the Euro).

At present, any country could leave the EU. It would be painful for the members of the Eurozone and absolutely unthinkable for some of the larger players like Germany or France, yet still possible. However, future integration is planned, with the year 2017 set to bring us news of another European treaty to finish the job that the others started. This treaty will likely consolidate the Eurozone into a fiscally integrated body while formalising the outer-tier of non-Euro states. This has been on the cards for years and will most likely get done in 2025.

And yet, once the EU moves this far, it crosses a line. By consolidating the Eurozone, an economic necessity, it consolidates divisions between those who would like to stay out and those already inside, and makes the EU visibly responsible for policy in a way in which it has never been before. There will be friction between those on the inside of the core and those on the outside, and even possibly frictions within the core (huge wealth transfers will be required to bridge the gaps between economic productivity between the northern economies and the southern – the grievances generated will depend on how transparently this is done).

Presumably, other political trappings will also follow, such as foreign policy and legal harmonisation – yet there looks to be no increase in accountability to the public as of yet. I doubt whether such accountability is even possible given the huge number of differing identities over such a huge population. The national identities are too strong to simply give way to a larger democracy, and hence the resulting government will brook serious opposition of a type that the current EU simply cannot even dream of.

Once in this form, with this lack of accountability, with increased identity tensions and with the EU increasingly seen as to blame for problems, the EU, while never having looked stronger and more powerful, will come up against its greatest challenges. It is essentially providing the perfect conditions for such insurgent nationalism that its entire raison d’etre is to so keen to avoid.

Possibly even violent nationalism – it would not be the first large political bloc to tear itself to shreds along identity lines. For example, China in the 19th century, where tens of millions died in a spate of ethnically-aggravated rebellions. Yugoslavia is another case in point, as are many Middle-Eastern ‘countries’ where separate identities vie for political control, causing many institutions to break down.

Obviously, we live in one of the most peaceful corners of the world, but nothing concrete should be assumed at this point about the future, at least definitely not until the EU has been through the next treaty. While the EU is frequently touted as being synonymous with the end of all war in Europe because nationalism can finally be overcome, this rhetoric falls far short of reality if seen in a historical sense – if the EU takes the wrong path following this upcoming treaty and does not tread very carefully over national sensibilities (which it shows no signs of doing), the European dream could become a continental nightmare.

In this post and the last post, I have been trying to set out an alternative paradigm, the fundamentals on which my thinking is based – as much to clarify my own thought as anything else. I’m not going to even try to promote them as such. Next post will be back to more petty issues directly concerning the referendum. This has ended up so long that I’m not even going to bother proof-reading it – if you got this far, I both pity and respect you.

In summary:

·         Supranationalism is a reaction to nationalism and the world wars

·         There are two sides to supranationalism – the need for international economic regulation and geopolitical consolidation for peace

·         Both of these reasons are flawed – there is no inherent reason why international regulation requires supranationalism, and supranationalists fundamentally misunderstand nationalism itself – nationalism was not the primary cause of either of the two world wars, and hence supranationalists are going out of their way to prevent something that doesn’t need preventing

·         Supranationalism has problems itself because placing strong identities in single political units necessarily creates tensions because it places identities with different strengths and values in the same governmental system

·         As such, supranational systems are always somewhat unstable because they are built on volatile foundations – they must create ideological loyalty (something the EU has not really done – in propping up national governments to take the blame for mistakes, the EU hasn’t established a large popular following of its own)

·         Tensions can very often boil over into terrorism and violence as identities/nationalities seek to reassert themselves – if grievances are not addressed democratically

·         The EU has been relatively lucky – nation states are still the object of blame for unpopular policies, very few problems that could unseat the EU have arisen, and public opinion in the member states has remained supportive enough for it to function without problems

·         The EU is reaching a critical turning point – the feted 2025 treaty will enshrine differences and give the EU too much power for it to avoid stoking opposition – volatile public opinion may roll over and become hostile very quickly, at least in some places, if the EU fails to meet expectations

·         The EU is not democratic or accountable enough in its present form to face these challenges without causing a huge amount of grief – it is doubtful in my mind if the EU can ever be a functioning democratic body given the presence of such strong nationalities

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