Court politics

Jack Straw

An interesting discussion this evening on the subject of sovereignty, a familiar theme to readers of this blog. The speaker was exploring the idea that sovereignty is slipping away from the member states but is not really reappearing anywhere else. The institutions and practices of government are becoming hollowed out, in effect, as a challenge to both traditional and contemporary notions of sovereignty (I think I am explaining it properly). It is a phenomenon common in a range of fields of policy, and he was wondering whether it could be identified in the European Union too.

It’s an analysis that I don’t think I agree with- federalists have a different and, to my mind, coherent description of what is happening to sovereignty and why – but it is nevertheless an interesting and important argument to consider. What makes it doubly important is the fact that it can sensibly be levelled at the EU at all. For it is clear that there is a problem with the location of sovereignty in Europe. The contest or rivalry between the national and European levels of government is obscure and unclear and unsatisfactory. It is not surprising that it is hard to understand.

And before it can be understood, it has to be explained. And that in turn is something that the British find it hard to do, too.

Take the news today about EU funding for information, for example. Jack Straw has asked that the European Commission should not spend money in the UK on public information about the EU. I find that extraordinary. Here in the UK is the lowest level of knowledge about the institutions of the EU and how they work, and yet here in the UK is the place where people should not be told about them. I suppose it is one thing to say that public funds should not be used for persuasive purposes in a referendum campaign but quite another to say that they should not be used to convey facts about the system of government we live under. Readers of this blog who live in the United Kingdom should look away now.

The speaker this evening used a really telling phrase to describe the EU’s decision-making: he called it “court politics”. I think that that phrase says a lot. It’s not a question of laws or principles or procedures but a question who knows whom and has influence over what. There is still too much court politics about the European Union. The constitution is intended to diminish it and put parliamentary politics in its place, but if the people aren’t allowed to be told the facts, how will they ever know?

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Still no reply from Tom Wise regarding the quote that he said was from Jean Monnet but for which he could not provide a source. I’ll ask him again.

This blog entry first appeared on The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.

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