Johann Hari: The voters of Europe are demanding more democracy, not more free markets

Whether Blair likes it or not, Europe is committed to a different kind of capitalism to the Atlantic model
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The Independent Online

The story of this week's Non and Nee votes is like an Agatha Christie thriller with an especially perplexing twist. We know who the killer is - the French and Dutch people. We know they knifed something in the ballot box. But the question is: what exactly did they kill?

The story of this week's Non and Nee votes is like an Agatha Christie thriller with an especially perplexing twist. We know who the killer is - the French and Dutch people. We know they knifed something in the ballot box. But the question is: what exactly did they kill?

Of course, it is the blood of the European constitution that was found at the scene. A few hardy souls - Jacques Chirac, Bertie Ahern - might try to give mouth-to-mouth to the corpse, but it is no good: a quick, tearful funeral is best for everyone. But we all know something else something died with the constitution. The only problem is that nobody can agree about the identity of the real victim.

For the most foaming of Eurosceptics, the answer is obvious: the European Union itself. Roger Knapman, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, describes this vote as "the beginning of the end for the European project". The French and Dutch peoples have killed the very idea of a transnational body stretching from the shores of the Atlantic to the mountains of the Urals. They have asserted their desire to return to the Europe of the late 19th century: a place of sovereign, independent states.

But is this true? The Non and Nee camps (apart from the Le Pennite fringes) argued that a rejection of this constitution was not a rejection of the EU itself. The French left campaigned for a pro-European "no", arguing for a different Europe, not no Europe at all. The polls show there is no majority for withdrawal from the EU in France, the Netherlands or indeed any European country.

Detective Tony Blair has identified a very different victim. Speaking from Italy on the night of the long Non, he said, "The question that is being debated by the people of Europe is how do you, in this era of globalisation, make our economies strong and competitive?" For Blair, these votes were an expression of rage against the French and Dutch political élites, because they have failed to deliver decent employment rates and growth. Stuck in a stagnant economic bog, the voters simply chose to kick their leaders in the ballots. Never mind the detail of the constitution; just feel the anger.

So for New Labour, the casualty is the social Europe promoted by the French and German governments. Say goodbye to a Europe of high regulation, high tax-and-spend, and slow growth, they say with a smile.

But this is no more plausible than the Eurosceptic denoument. The whole thrust of the Non campaign was that the proposed constitution would impose Anglo-American capitalism and crush the wings of France's generous welfare state.

Whether Blair likes it or not, Western Europe is committed to a different kind of capitalism than the cold Atlantic model. The peoples of France, Germany and Spain have understood that - once a certain level of prosperity has been achieved - scrambling desperately for more, more, more doesn't bring sufficient increases in human happiness. They do not want to work 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, and rarely see their children. They do not want vertiginous income inequality, a retreat into gated communities, and 2 million people rotting in jail. They do not - in other words - want to become like America.

It is a myth to suggest that Europe must strangle its social model if it wants to succeed. The Swedes have a lavish welfare state married to a healthy economy and the best social mobility in the world. (Ironically, they are achieving the American dream far better than America itself. All the figures show a poor Swedish child is far more likely to become rich in his lifetime than a poor American kid). German social democracy is in chaos today not because it is inherently flawed, but because a few years ago it had a collapsing communist economy bolted on to its side. If Britain had to absorb and subsidise Albania, do you imagine we would be doing any better?

So, Mesdames et Messieurs, the victim of the events of the past week is not the EU itself, nor the social model of Western Europe. Mais non! I have gathered you here in the library today to reveal that the victim is... Jean Monnet.

You may not recall him. He was the man with the garlic who you saw first at the beginning of this story, mes amis. Monnet was one of the first exponents of the European ideal, and his Europe was built on protecting the peoples of Europe from themselves. He believed in a technocratic, top-down Europe that kept its functions deliberately vague and was (at best) equivocal about the will of the people.

Monnet's vision was an important phase in the development of Europe. In a continent devastated by demagogic Nazism, his cautious Europe of élites was a necessary antidote. But it has persisted for far too long. Pro- Europeanism has remained in the paternalistic, people-fearing mould of Monnet, even in the age of Google and mass referenda. Its powers have raced ahead of the mechanisms of democratic accountability.

The best arguments offered by the nay-sayers were all about Europe's democratic deficit. How can we transfer huge powers over the way we live to institutions unaccountable to us? True, the constitution contained a handful of democratising measures: the introduction of Swiss-style referenda that permit a million citizens to force legislation on to the EU agenda, along with greater powers to national parliamentarians to monitor European legislation. But overall, Valery Giscard d'Estaing had written a Monnetian constitution: unreadable, technical, legalistic, and written for a handful of civil servants rather than Europe's 450 million citizens.

The EU is a rolling, rollicking experiment in transnational government. It is the nature of experiments that they sometimes go wrong and must be put right. The solution is not to vandalise the European Union itself and return to a continent of snarling 19th-century states. It is to begin the slow, tough process of properly democratising the EU - making sure that every decision is checked by the people's representatives - and building a popular pro-Europeanism.

It's a gargantuan challenge, but the possibility of continuing with a remote, technocratic Europe died this week. The EU's soundtrack cannot consist solely of Monnet's 1950s speeches, spliced with a few tracks of 1980s neo-liberalism. If we don't begin building a popular democratic EU now, we will be calling on Hercule Poirot to explain European mysteries at the ballot-box far into the distant future.