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The worse the better

Perhaps I would not go quite so far as the Russian revolutionary Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky in regarding with delight any failure to reform the old regime on the grounds that more misery for the poor brings forward the day of revolution.

But I am rather pleased that “arch federalist” Jean-Claude Juncker is to be the next president of the European Commission. Though it is not his fault, even the man’s name rankles.

21 comments to The worse the better

  • Regional

    It appears that a lot of these fascist autocrats are over confident wankers.

  • Laird

    Natalie, I would remind you that our own Perry de Havilland is an advocate of the “Chernyshevsky” theory of political reform by societal collapse. Just sayin’.

    The description of Mr. Junker as an “arch federalist” intrigued me. In the US, “federalism” is a political philosophy in which power is shared by a number of political entities (here, the states and the federal government) under a constitutional structure. The fundamental idea is that political power is diffused, with different levels of government having more or less exclusive jurisdiction over different functions. However, from what I can tell of Mr. Junker’s philosophy (and, for that matter, that of most Europhiles), his view is that power should be centralized and consolidated into a single pan-European government. That is precisely the opposite of the US meaning of the word, but from its use in the subhead of the Telegraph article it would seem to be the commonly accepted definition east of the Atlantic. I guess “federalism” is one of those amorphous and slippery terms which means entirely different things to different people (as is “liberal”, which we’ve discussed here recently, or “fascist”, which today seems to be nothing more than an emotion-fraught but content-free term of generalized disapprobation, or “racist”, a term whose sole purpose is to stifle debate).

    This certainly seems to be another illustration of Churchill’s observation that the British and Americans are “separated by a common language”.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Regional… I am not sure who you are talking about. Cameron, Juncker, Merkel. Your description, after all, applies to all of them.

  • Laird, I am going to be technical about this, and therefore possibly way too charitable to the Eurocrat in question, but I guess ‘federalism’ is in the eyes of the beholder, specifically the position of the beholder on the scale of power diffusion. IOW, looked from the POV of many independent European states, say, at any point in time before WWII, the US federal structure would rightly be seen as less power-diffuse than Europe. Therefore, it seems reasonable to presume that some early contemporary Eurocrat such as here, would indeed aspire to such a state of affairs in Europe as he was at the time observing in the US. I am not going to go into current comparisons for fear of spoiling my own evening, not to mention yours…

    PS: Juncker, that’s the name of the wassisname.

  • …some early contemporary Eurocrat such as wassisname here…

    (preview is my friend, and yet it failed me).

  • Laird

    Alisa, pre-WWII the US might have been seen as “less power-diffuse” than Europe (only because Europe then consisted of truly independent sovereign nations), but that certainly cannot be the case today. If you’re ascribing that definition to Juncker or any current Europhile, I agree, you are being entirely too charitable. There is no possible way that could be their intended definition.

  • I am trying to show that the term ‘federalist’ is not amorphous and slippery, but technical – although one may well discuss different degrees of federalism, which would probably correlate to different degrees of power diffusion. But you of course are correct about Mr. Juncker.

  • Regional

    Fraser Orr,
    It does.

  • Paul Marks

    If Mr Cameron does not understand now that the E.U. can not be reformed – then he never will.

  • Laird

    Alisa, you may be trying to show that but you’re failing. The sense in which the word is used in this article is completely contrary to the US meaning: it is a specific reference to someone whose politics is absolutely antithetical to the commonly understood US meaning of the term. It is used to describe someone who seeks centralized, absolute power, not its diffusion.

  • Fred Z

    Ein Junker?

    Dritten mal Gluecklig!

  • Laird, my point is that federalism does not necessarily mean diffusion of power – diffusion being a term relative to a current state of affairs in a particular place and point in time. Being a technical term, federalism is a technical mechanism, a tool (the US/EU respective common understandings of the term, including the differences between the two, notwithstanding): it can bring more or less diffusion, depending on where one starts off, and what one’s goals are (you are perfectly correct on that last point). The US started off as very diffuse, and went from there to much less diffuse, in large part because of federalism (I know you disagree about this, so FWIW). Europe started off as even more diffuse technically (albeit probably not philosophically), and went the same way the US did, also by means of federalism. On the American side, the goal of the founders was diffusion, and you can rightly argue that the goal of the EU founders was the opposite of that. Still, federalism remains a mere tool, and if anything, so far it has been proven much more effective against power diffusion, than it has been for it, on both sides of the big pond.

  • Stonyground

    I don’t think that Cameron believes that the EU can be reformed, I think that he pretends to believe it just so that he can be seen to be advocating it. I think that he is only doing so because he is worried about UKIP.

  • Laird

    Alisa, thank you for making my original point that the definition of “federalism” is indeed “amorphous and slippery”. The fact that you can use it in such a tortured way confirms it.

  • And thank you, Laird, for actually reading and trying to understand what I am saying.

  • Laird,

    To break Alisa’s point down to its most basic form:

    A federal structure is less centralized than what the United States effectively has today. Therefore, to be a federalist in the US is to advocate a less powerful government.

    A federalist structure is more centralized than what the nominally sovereign states in the EU have today, with respect to their membership in the EU. Therefore, to be a federalist with respect to the EU is to advocate a more powerful EU government.

    Same structure, different trajectories.

  • Thanks, Mastiff – that’s more or less it :-)

    Although with respect to the structure itself, IIUC, it may also vary, i.e. there may be different types of federalism, and the differences would be mostly those of degree. I may be wrong.

  • Mr Ed

    To me the name rankles because of this.

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    My dictionary simply defines a Federation as a union of states under a central government, so it can be used, like the word ‘democracy’ to describe a lot of different things. I.E., if it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s probably a platypus.

  • Paul Marks

    Confederation is supposed to be better than Federation – yet the Swiss Confederation gets more centralised all the time (and has been for a very long time).

    Perhaps “Alliance” or “League” would be better – but both of those can go wrong also.

    James Madison was horrified by statism at STATE level (endless passing of laws and so on) and thought that a strong national government would stop that.

    Sounds absolutely crazy today – bit in the 1780s (or even in the 1890s) it did not sound so crazy.

    The Feds would stop the States and local government doing really evil things – such as violating contracts, or …..

    But what is to stop the Feds doing really evil things?

    Ah the Tenth Amendment will stop that……..

    Accept that it has not turned out that way.

    Perhaps if the word “specifically” was in the Tenth Amendment? It is there in the draft – at some point it gets removed.

    However, as Alisa once said – any word can be twisted.

  • Gareth

    In European politics as the media reports it I think ‘federalist’ has taken on a fairly limited, simple meaning – that of someone who wants to create a proper EU nation. A nation with EU level administration of taxation, law and order, defence, customs and excise, etc. At present the EU sets common rules but relies on member nations to enforce them.

    There are differences between a federal government and a unitary government with devolved powers but I doubt the media would care to explain them. Furthermore, I don’t think european federalists would actually want a truly federal government. What they describe is more fluid than that:

    While many existing federal systems are characterized by a strict separation of competences between the federal level and the member states (each level with its own “exclusive competences” and a few “shared competences”), the complexities of European integration are likely to require a more flexible approach with more areas where the member states and the European level would have “shared competences”. This may have to be the case even in fields which traditionally have been an exclusive competence of member states or their regions, such as education (where the European level can play a role, for instance with projects on students’ and researchers’ mobility) and social security (where the European level can play a role with projects on workers’ mobility and transnational social security schemes for international workers). On the other hand, the opposite may have to be the case in fields which traditionally have been an exclusive competence of the federal level, such as foreign and security policy, where European member states will presumably keep a residual role for a long transitional period.

    One very big sticking point to an EU nation whatever its makeup is that at present the EU can get away with having 28 representatives taking a common position around international top tables, plus on occasion a seat for itself. A fully fledged EU nation would just be one seat.

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