Europe’s leaders should copy Bush?

President George W Bush (picture White House/Eric Draper)

Janet Daley wrote in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week (read it here) that the British people will not “accept rule by unelected continental bureaucracy and ministerial fiat, which is alien to their history.” Quite right, but who is asking them to?

Taking “ministerial fiat” first, most of it is exercised in Westminster and Whitehall. There was an attempt to break this open by taking the regionally-administered Whitehall functions and making them accountable to elected regional assemblies. That failed in a referendum, and I don’t recall Janey Daley as a prominent campaigner for a Yes vote. Some ministerial discretion flourishes in Brussels, true, but the case made by this website is that that should change. There’s a paper published by the Federal Trust which analyses the decision-making trail using reform of the EU sugar regime as a case study. (Read it here.) What ministers (and their civil servants) got away with is shocking. The Council of Ministers needs to complete the transition from acting as a ministerial committee to acting as a legislative assembly. Will Janet Daley endorse that?

Next, “unelected continental bureaucracy”. There’s a simple answer here: rule should be by elected politicians, not unelected bureaucrats. That’s coming, by stages – President Barroso is a career politician (he was formerly prime minister of Portugal) and was “approved” in office by the European Parliament. The constitutional treaty would turn this approval process into an election, doubtless to Janet Daley’s satisfaction.

The only bit of Janet Daley’s outburst that I can’t dispose of is the word “continental”. Well, if Britain is to forge a close international partnership with the countries with whom it has the closest interests – economic, social, environmental, security – the continent of Europe is where it will find them. Even I can’t change the map.

But there is a good point in Janet Daley’s article nevertheless, that elected politicians should always keep in mind the interests of their electorates. They tend to get voted out if they don’t. One weakness of the European Union at present is that there is not enough of this kind of calculation in the debates. When there is, of course, is when there are calls for the Commission to defend the Italian shoe industry against cheap imports or when the CAP is stoutly protected: even Janet Daley does not always like what popular electoral politics might bring.

But asking Europe’s leaders to copy George Bush is a bit much. He is now effectively a lame duck president, serving out his second and final term, unable to stand for re-election, largely repudiated by the candidates from his own party, let alone those of the opposition. There are better models from America for European leaders to emulate, more noble and inspiring examples of political action and vision. Presidents Jefferson and Washington, for example, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Ambassador Benjamin Franklin. Politicians who united a continent whilst respecting state diversity, introducing precisely the kind of political accountability that Janet Daley now longs for. Why settle for the worst of American presidents, when you can settle for some of the best?

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