A friend referred me to a relatively new site “Briefings on Brexit” yesterday which I checked out with interest. It was started by academics who were fed up with Brexit being stereotyped as mad and bad. They started the site to proselytise a reasoned and well informed case for Brexit. On a quick look I was looking for signs of unreasonableness and crankery and found one article which fit the bill I think (the basic theory he quotes is speculative, but interesting, but he puts it to very crude use in his article complete with a ‘Laffer Curve’ style graph), but most seemed fairly reasonable at least on their face (though I’m not in a position to judge a lot of their claims).
I thought this article raised a very important point. Here is the guts of the argument through extensive quote below. Note, due to Troppo readers’ notorious lack of concentration, I have added additional paragraph breaks. (You’re welcome!).
The EU is an institution which – despite all its window-dressing – is still essentially an intergovernmental organisation. Decisions are made through the familiar processes of international bargaining, though unlike other international bargains the ones made in the EU directly apply to the internal arrangements of the member states. And international negotiations have always been pre-eminently the arena in which governments act secretly and spring faits accomplis on their citizens. … But secrecy in general is endemic to international relations.
Because of this, even if a country’s constitution gives the final say over an international agreement to the legislature (as ours arguably does not), in practice the negotiations are entirely in the hands of the executive, the repository of secrets in most modern states. International negotiations also tend to give a disproportionate role to the civil servants, the “sherpas” in contemporary parlance, who prepare the ground for their (supposed) masters, since very few modern politicians have the time or the experience to pay as much attention to international politics as they do to the internal politics of their own countries. Their instincts are also likely to be much less acute when they leave the familiar territory in which they have made their careers.
This is the particularly toxic feature of the EU. A democratic state like the United Kingdom has, by and large, a pretty open debate about important domestic issues. There may be secret manoeuvrings within party executives and within Whitehall, but it all has to come out into the open before any firm decisions are made, and politicians can relatively easily be forced into u-turns. But to make important decisions through international bargaining, decisions which then structure the economy, and even to some extent the society, of a member state, as those made through the EU institutions must do, is to bring secrecy into the heart of domestic politics.
With secrecy inevitably comes mistrust. As modern states do more and more through international agreements, distrust of politicians grows among their populations, who suspect that their ruling classes now have more in common with the ruling classes of other countries than they do with the ruled of their own. They may be right in this mistrust – after all, for much of the pre-democratic history of our countries this would have been an entirely well-founded apprehension – but even without a cultural sympathy of this kind the logic of the international structures makes a politician into a kind of secret agent within their own country. Who knows what they really want, and what they have implicitly as well as explicitly agreed to?
Defenders of the EU can agree with all this, and they can go on to say that for this reason it is vital to turn the EU into a proper state with the kind of transparent internal politics that we were used to in our individual nations fifty or sixty years ago. But as things stand that ambition looks absurdly utopian – far more utopian than anything Brexiteers are guilty of. Like so much of the EU, its political accountability is stuck in a half-way house, unable to move forward or backwards. If we value transparency and trustworthiness in our politics, we have to leave the EU and detoxify our public life; until we have thoroughly disentangled ourselves from it, distrust will remain the default attitude of the British public, and nothing can be done about that during the interim period we have embarked upon.
These issues were most powerfully expounded on by Varoufakis after his Kafkaesque experience with the Eurozone. But they’re real for us too. And Kafka would be proud of the way it works. I was on the fringes of the negotiation of the TPP. Negotiated entirely in secret from all Australian interests, including Australian business – but not, remarkably enough from major US corporations – DFAT ‘briefings’ of Australian interests were a very strange affairs running roughly along these lines.
DFAT: Welcome to this six monthly briefing where we’re consulting you on what you think our negotiating objectives are.
Team Australia: What happened over the last six months.
DFAT: Very hard to say. But what do you propose should be our updated negotiating objectives.
Team Australia: Very hard to say.
More to the point these secret international negotiations offer a vector by which international power – particularly international corporate power – enters Australian law – via such means as unjustifiably extended IP, disciplines on collective national negotiation of the price of imports and the running insult to the last few centuries of painful constitutional development that is investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which had the Canadian Government in lengthy arbitration over its improvement of the innovation hurdle in patents and Australia in the same kind of malarky over plain paper packaging for cigarettes.
Does this make me a Brexiter? No, though I could easily a Euro exiter if I was in a country on the periphery of the Eurozone. We’re in a very sticky situation I think.