26 September 2012

Euroskepticism - The Debate Continues

I had a great time reading Sikorski's scathing speech on Britain's prevailing euroskepticism.  As the EU moves towards solidarity and strong controls across all member states, the Brits have shuttered themselves out of EU decisions since the infamous veto on reforming EU treaties back in December (though Cameron wielded a veto threat for about two to three months).  That one decision sidelined Britain in a way I'm not sure anyone truly anticipated and Sikorski is essentially saying, "If you think you're better off without us, I hope you thought about how it will affect your international relations, trade, and current government.  Leaving means you have less clout, weaker trade ties, and the same government but without the EU to blame."

Maybe Sikorski is being dramatic.  Perhaps he is just laying out the reality of that decision.  The euro(skeptic/phile) debate continues and it's positive to have opposition on such a large democratic institution.  Otherwise power would not be negotiated--it would simply be decided upon.  Debate is what creates working democracies.  However, the polarization of these two camps is what is worrisome.  The debate is whether to sink the ship or build the ship up more.  With such uncompromising stances, how can the two camps agree?  This article on the similarities between the skeptics and philes makes some valid points and the inclusion of Homer Simpson is both absurd and profound.  There's debate over whether dissolving the EU would even be beneficial at this point, which would impact attitudes towards the institutions.  If there's no way back, there's probably no point in squabbling about how to dismantle it.  However, a lot of idealism and technocracy has to battle out for Europe to feel comfortable with the way things are.

Europe (and the world post-financial crisis generally) faces a debate of whether to put more faith in technocratic merit to ensure economic prosperity or to vote for the morals and values to drive politics.  Vaclav Havel is an incredible inspirations figure for me and his anthology of speeches, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality In Practice, has made an deep impression upon my political beliefs.  This book holds particular salient points of discussion, especially as our decisions between technocracy and moral democracy are increasingly murkier.  Freedom is correlated with economic prosperity, but it's not completely clear if one must precede the other.  Freedom takes on many forms, one of which is economic, but others include biology, politics, and morality.  China, for example, is economically free, but politically hostage.  Freedom is not a bulk package.

Since the crisis left many people destitute or financially weakened, we panic and ask for technocratic reforms to prevent this.  This isn't wrong and it's preferable to have working economic and financial policies that prevent such wild fluctuations and economic disparity.  At the same time, technocracy is focused on what works and not necessarily what is good and right.  A technocrat would be far more interested in a foreign policy that protected his economic interests than one that protected the values he holds sacred.  Havel, as a product of an authoritarian system that demanded adherence to an ideal that in fact exploited the very workers it claimed to praise, emphasized living in truth--an unabashed adherence to what is true and good.  In several of the speeches in that anthology, he grapples with the decisions people made during those 45 years because they were not clear cut morally.  The institutional policies were not entirely technocratic either because they contradicted economic logic and pressured citizens' moral choices.  In a way, the machine of Communism was merely interested in continuing itself and was incredibly technocratic, but also did not institute policies that truly worked.  In Germany, the political system and infrastructure were made up entirely of Communists who had been discriminated against in the workforce and had very little working experience when they came to power (which led to some slapdash reforms).

Not to bring communism in to the discussion to scare everyone (Americans, be afraid!), but to point out the trade-offs between technocracy and moral politics have a long demonstrated history in that part of the world at the point in time. The answers aren't readily available or clear cut either, but I think it's important to underline that technocracy and morality have their trade-offs and we should more carefully assess both in political decisions.  There's a balance of pragmatism and idealism that's ever more difficult to grasp.