This Thursday, 9th February in Berlin, sees the launch of yet another reforming movement for the EU. DiEM25 hopes to build a broad based movement which will lead to a left wing reform of the EU. DiEM stands for Democracy in Europe Movement and their key message is that the EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate! Their snappy slogan is Democratise Europe! The main impulse for this new movement is our old friend Yanis Veroufakis, the former Syriza minister. We wish DiEM well, but fear that at this stage it is little more than a slogan.
You can find the DiEM website here, where you can download their manifesto. This is a bit long on assertions, especially about how bad and undemocratic the EU is. Their actual proposals for moving forward seem mostly a bit vague. Anthony Barnett on Open Democracy has helpfully put together a shorter version, which you can read here. The really short version seems to boil down to two immediate demands:
(A) full transparency in decision-making (e.g. live-streaming of European Council, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents, publication of ECB minutes etc.) and
(B) the urgent redeployment of existing EU institutions in the pursuit of innovative policies that genuinely address the crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, rising poverty and migration.
Now A is long overdue and would be most welcome. Not clear though just why the various EU institutions would agree to do this right now. These are after all immediate priorities for DiEM. Somehow I do not think that the 28 governments of the members states are quivering in their boots at the prospect of DiEM meeting in Berlin. For any change to the way the EU works requires at the very least a large majority of the governments of the member states to agree. It may, possibly, require unanimity. A fact of the EU that DiEM seems to just ignore.
As regards B, these have little or nothing to do with democracy per se. This is a wish list of issues that DiEM would like to see tackled in a left wing, progressive way. However, these issues could be addressed in a left, progressive way just now. The only reason that this is not happening just now is the rather inconvenient fact that the overwhelming majority of democratically elected governments in the EU are pretty right wing in their approach to everything.
DiEM also has a medium-term goal. This is nothing less that the establishment by 2025 of a full-fledged European democracy. This goal will be achieved via a constitutional assembly. It seems that the key feature of this European democracy will be a sovereign Parliament that respects national self- determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. (my emphasis)
This goal seems to be even more out of touch with reality that the two immediate goals. What decisions will this sovereign parliament take? Is it meant to replace the council of ministers? If this parliament is to be sovereign, what is meant by sharing power? Either you can take a decision, which is what sovereign usually means, or you cannot. If you need the approval of other parliaments, then you are not sovereign.
My main worry for DiEM is that its analysis of the EU is very weak and full of misconceptions. Another recent article in Open Democracy, by Lorenzo Marsili, offers an alternative view of the EU. As he puts it:
We need to stop portraying the EU as an all-powerful behemoth impeding any real change at national level. This rhetoric is false and only benefits supporters of the status quo. Failure to achieve progressive national policies is not due to the EU. It is due to the incapacity of the progressive field to win popular consent.
This cannot be said often enough, especially on the left. Much can be done to reform the working of the EU, but this will only happen in a progressive way, when and if, the left can once again win popular consent. It will not do so by diverting time and effort into grand sloganizing and attempting to bypass the current EU institutions. The Council of Ministers is where real power in the EU lies. To reform the EU means that the left needs to enter government in a clear majority of the member states.
I agree very much with Lorenzo Marsili when he writes that the attacks on the EU by the left have more to do with justifying their political failure nationally than opening up a new field of action for their countries. Grandstanding on the European stage is no doubt satisfying and good for the ego, but it misses the target. This remains as ever, the need for the left to win power in the various national parliaments. DiEM would do better to focus on this challenge rather than issue a grandiose manifesto.