Tuesday, May 08, 2012

GroenLinks comes out against Democracy

This is the first post that is cross-posted from my new IdeasOnEurope blog. For the time being, everything I write there will be cross-posted here, but not necessarily vice versa. Probably I'll end up taking the title literally and using the new blog only for EU-related blogging.

Yesterday I tweeted this story to Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, who belongs to GL’s centre-left rivals D66, but she didn’t seem interested in exploiting it for electoral gain, so I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.
As it turns out, GroenLinks, the Dutch Green Party, thinks it is a good thing that the EU is not very democratic, because that makes it easier for them to resist populist pressure. Lot van Hooijdonk, the chairwoman of the GroenLinks in Europe foundation, lists all of the great things GroenLinks would like to do for people that they never seem to get around to in The Hague because they’re too busy responding to populist pressure. Hail the European Parliament! There, at least, such benevolence is possible because there is no need to “polarise and popularise in front of the cameras”. With friends like that, who needs enemies.
Traditionally, there are three ways for Europhiles to tackle the problem of the democratic deficit. There is my way, which argues that the problem is not as severe as commonly claimed, because the Council provides a strong channel of democratic accountability even if the Parliament does not. Then there is the Andrew Moravcsik way, which argues that the EU isn’t all that powerful, and that its democracy is strong enough for the level of authority it has. And finally, there is the Simon Hix answer, which grants the premise and suggests various solutions.
But this is new. This author grants the premise and quite deliberately does not offer any solutions. Of course, there is a long history of people arguing that democracy is great only in moderation. I myself have had fun in the past repeating some arguments from John Stuart Mill’s Considerations on Representative Government. (I had quite a bit of trouble getting my American interlocutors to agree that the act of voting is not an act of self-determination, but rather an exercise of power over one’s fellow citizens as well as over oneself. I would have thought that that much at least would be obvious.) However, at least in the post-War era all authors that I am aware of have been careful to keep such speculation away from any actual practical application.
There is only one exception that I can think of: Both GroenLinks and Ms. In ‘t Veld’s D66 are in favour of referendums. I am very much against. I argue for that position using the familiar “let’s not have too much democracy” arguments. Specifically: “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large masses.” (If more nuance is called for, I bring in rational ignorance.) However, that is a far cry from “parliaments should be less transparent so that they can be more benevolent without those annoying voters getting in the way”. That one truly left me puzzled.

No comments: