Greg Mankiw described himself in a recent post as a “libertarian at the margin”. I can sympathise with this sentiment. I might call myself a pragmatic libertarian, but I tend to avoid the term altogether. Even if on many issues I might be critical of the role of the government, and might read classic libertarian texts and see where they’re coming from, the pace of transition to such a system usually suggested by them would be what would turn me against them. Just as Karl Popper proposed piecemeal social engineering against totalitarianism, I feel something similar towards much of libertarianism as often proposed. Even if at each step along the way, I’d probably side with the libertarian side of an argument, such a step-by-step approach is usually more conducive to social cohesion. Otherwise, the libertarian argument is no less the establishing a system of government upon a theory that has historically led to unforeseen results.
In a previous blog, I looked at the improvements in the democratic character of the European Union which the Lisbon Treaty will introduce. Yet this week, we heard Declan Ganley again decrying the lack of democracy in the EU, ignoring these changes. He talks of the need for a 25-page constitutional document, overturning 52 years of negotiation by Treaty. This rejection of piecemeal change in favour of a fundamental overhaul deserves analysis in itself.
His 25-page document would turn the EU on an entirely new path, with very little relation in its institutions and structure to what exists at present. He expects us to ignore the 7 years of work which included a convention with parties across Europe and across the political spectrum, in government and in opposition, as well as contributions from civil society.
To recap on the changes Lisbon will introduce to make the workings more open and democratic:
- the Council of Ministers, which finalizes any EU legislation, will vote in public
- the Citizens’ Initiative will require the Commission to consider an application from a million citizens, a power far greater than exists nationally, where we cannot in anyway control the agenda of cabinet meetings
- national parliaments will review legislation after it is proposed by the Commission, and a sufficient number could veto legislation going any further
- our MEPs elected in the European Parliament will have an equal say with the Council of Ministers in making law
The Irish eighteenth-century philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke, criticized the idea of a revolution upon a theory, arguing instead for institutional change by a steady and thoughtful process. In rejecting the moves towards open and democratic government in the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Ganley has fallen into this trap. Similarly, the twentieth-century philosopher Karl Popper praised the merit of piecemeal institutional change. Basically, we should ask where we should go from where we are now. It is very common to hear those on the No side talk in terms of “Another EU is possible”, rejecting any change that does not give it all at once, even if in their desired direction. This all-or-nothing approach is an unrealistic approach to diplomacy, and ignores our long-standing political traditions.
Remember, we should debate the Lisbon Treaty on the question of whether the changes it itself introduces are beneficial to the working of the Union compared to what exists at present. On these terms, Lisbon clearly brings the above benefits. Without Lisbon, we will not get these beneficial changes.