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10 Race & Class 51(3)
What does this mean, in an era of global capitalism, when the reach of transnational corporations is virtually without limit and their economic power may well be greater than that of many, except the wealthiest, nation states? Just as global capitalist corporations readily and more easily profit from states where there is little or no popular democracy, they will expect states (national and European) and political systems (national and European) to ensure that where there is ‘democracy’ it is compliant to capital’s needs. In such a contest, between weak, open and imperfect democracy, whose operations are transmitted through mass media that are often the offspring of the transnationals, and the powerbrokers of globalisation, which is likely to have more force on its side?
Alarmingly, there is developing in the EU today a trend to a convergence of parties in a political system which, under the veneer of democracy, is increasingly authoritarian.25 One of its features is the shift from ‘consent’ to ‘consensus’. Governing with the ‘consent’ of the people belongs to the old liberal-democratic era and implies a process, however imperfect, whereby people know what is on the agenda and can read, debate and intervene if they wish. Often people opted not to get involved, but they had a choice. ‘Consensus’, on the other hand, is constructed (manufactured) by the EU’s political elite, pronounced from on high and duly reported by a compliant media. People can either acquiesce or dissent (which only rarely influences decisions).
The EU’s ideology claims to be based on common values such as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ that are set in stone. Yet the political complexion of the EU has changed over the past ten years. In 1999, the EU had fifteen member states, twelve ‘social democratic’ governments (on the centre-left) and three on the right. Now there are twenty-seven EU governments, twenty-one on the right or extreme-right and six on the centre-left or right (including the UK government). This represents a major shift to the right across the EU, a shift in the centre of gravity that also affects the policies and practices being put on the table and agreed in the Council of Ministers and its working parties. These are what are then fed down to the nations’ populaces.
Moreover, EU ‘common values’ can change and have changed to match the prevailing political wind. The Council of the European Union (the twenty-seven governments) and the European Commission claim to have balanced ‘freedom’ and ‘security’ since 11 September 2001. Yet security wins out every time, so pandering to the wishlists of the security services and law enforcement agencies, and is rarely challenged by the ruling elites (and government circles) around the continent, or indeed by the plethora of multinational lobby groups and quasiacademic ‘thinktanks’ that cluster around the EU’s Brussels heartland.
By arguing that we are seeing a move to a ‘one-party’ or monolithic political system, I do not mean there is literally a single political party in the EU. Rather that the lack of any meaningful difference across the EU between the major political parties in their approach to the forces and powers of global capitalism means that they are effectively ‘one’. Elections, which legitimate the exercise of power by governments and the actions of their states, result in marginal change.