Credibility versus democratic accountability

STEPHEN RAINEY suggests shrugging-off problems and getting on with living

REALISING THE fears of many eurosceptics, eurozone governments have agreed to run their national budgets by a committee in Brussels before letting their citizenry give them the once over. A panel of experts will scrutinise the ‘main assumptions’ underlying national budget plans (things like projected interest rates, debt levels and so on), and impose penalties on national governments who stray outside pre-determined parameters. Moreover, penalties will be incurred at the ‘orange light’ stage, rather than waiting for problems to materialise outright. Extra-sovereign fiscal control and pre-emptive economic sanctions? Integration or a jab with a stick?

It has been noted before that the Euro was from its inception a political entity designed to usher in European political integration via economic stability measures. (1) AIG’s Bernard Connolly put it this way in 2002:

‘In Europe the advocates of monetary union have always been quite clear about the unpleasant financial implication of a single currency. For them, the crisis that will be created by the euro represents the route to establishing colonial administration in the smaller EMU countries.’

So is this it? European Council president Herman Van Rompuy reportedly said that the agreement to open budgets to Brussels’ scrutiny would ‘strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of budgets as it would put the broad parameters of the plans through a rigorous credibility test.’

National governments, then, are to gain added credibility by submitting the details of their national business to a panel in a pseudo-federal government uninvolved in the realpolitik of the nation itself. Read that again. If this is true, if national governments are indeed to be able to gain credibility by being monitored by an unaccountable panel, incurring sanctions should that panel’s dictates go unheeded, then what state must national politics be in?

In the eyes of many there has for some time been a legitimacy crisis in national government owing to the political elite’s penchant for maintaining power structures at the expense of the life of their citizenry. The influence of business and lobbying is a case in point of this unease. The thought that a national policy, perhaps one with long term employment or quality of life implications, could be passed on account of its suiting a developer or multinational corporation has been keenly felt as a very bad thing. On these occasions, the ideas of national pride or sovereignty are wheeled out, dusted off and trumpeted on news broadcasts and in the blogosphere.

Being a citizen involves many processes of which we are scarcely aware. Enculturation involves learning the ways of the world according to your society. From cradle to the schoolroom we pick up, piecemeal, how to get along. What to do where, how to talk to people, when to act and speak are all things we know, but learn in such a way that we don’t know we know them. It’s implicit. If when we’re a off about our business we are asked what we’re doing, sometimes we say ‘Nothing’. The storehouse of learning makes it possible that we don’t know that we know what we’re doing. In effect, we get into the habit of living before we get into the habit of thinking.??It’s all too easy to think that, because it’s hard to remember how you got to do things the way you do, there is no other way to to things. When we’re brought up we feel a pride often in how we were brought up. We can feel indebted to our own history as the goodness we perceive, the goods we can partake in can all be enjoyed owing to it. Our origins shape the possibilities of our future in certain ways so that the shape of life and things to come is fixed to an degree. Given the pride we feel in our history, these shapes of things to come can understandably feel like entitlements. It can feel the spring of growing up out to lead naturally through a set of summertime developments and cease in a happy, autumnal old age. The habit of living can feel like it has a natural end: destiny. To tinker with these processes is a crime against a future yet to unfold. It’s bad. Cosmically.

What happens when a cuckoo drops by???When we see someone in our idyllic midsts who looks different, sounds different, eats differently, likes strange music or otherwise does things odd to us we are forced to confront the fact that things could be different. We are forced to see that the mere fact of existing doesn’t itself necessitate the forms of life we are familiar with. There is at least one other, strange way of making the bare facts of life contentful. What’s more, maybe the pride I have in my origins The Other has in theirs. Perhaps they feel the debt I feel to my origins, but to theirs. Maybe they feel the pull of a certain type of future, one which they feel they’re owed. Of course I’d say they’re wrong, but what’s to say they wouldn’t say the same of me? How much more confusing, then, when the strange outsider relishes in my own ways, respects them and speaks highly of them. It’s as if our separate ways are equal.?? The sense in which diverse ways of life might be equal can be a disarming or unnerving one. If one way of life is as good as another, what is the value in any particular way of life? It seems to reconcile the reality of relative value among people and their ways each person is required to accept this diversity as in itself no bad thing. This means acquiring a habit of thinking about living. It requires that individuals accept the contingency of the very things they value most and accept the consequence that any way of life could stand as at least as valuable as any other. Destiny is a function of origin, neither being cosmically basic or necessary.

It’s this sort of realisation, that of the fact of existence and a certain contingency of the content of a life lived, that translates into national fear when notions of national integration and sovereignty come to the fore. What are we so jealously guarding when we fear integration? Subsumption under another’s scheme? Well politics is just governance. The things we cherish most dearly are surely the things that are valued only because we value them. What’s national pride anyway? We’re just better, right? Better why? Because we build a mystique. It’s our way.

If a nation is anything more than or besides its government and its aggregate of people, it’s because it has a vague, collective conscience. Call this culture. Neither Eurocrat nor domestic bureaucrat can touch it as it’s only valuable as long as we value it. We can only keep ourselves worthwhile by our own lights by maintaining culture and avoiding dogmatic conservatism. Call that Nationalism.

Governments famously have policies rather than conscience. The fact is The Man’s always going to get on your case. It doesn’t matter from where. The trick is to shrug it off and get on with living. As Albert Camus puts it, ‘freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better’.