Brexit, Democracy, Euro-Scepticism, European Union, Five Star Movement, GDPR, Italy, Jeremy Corbyn, Madeleina Kay, Opinion, Politics, Populism, The Euro, The General Data Protection Regulation, The League (Italy)
It is a bad week for the European Union whenever people notice it and begin to think about it. This one has been particularly bad. All of the EU’s undemocratic unloveliness has been on display as usual but this week it is starting to, in the parlance of those who monitor public opinion, cut through.
The EU is, as everybody knows, outward-looking, forward-thinking, modern, progressive, and indispensable to the successful implementation of capitalism. More to the point, the EU’s loyalists are young, cosmopolitan, and trendy. Just look at some of its coolest young spokes-er-men, Lord Heseltine, Lord Mandelson, Lord Adonis, Lord Patten, and Lord Stegosaurus. Over the past months, they have continuously warned us that the EU is so shiny and efficient that we will be “left behind” without it. How unfortunate for these idealistic youngsters that their beloved union is lately responsible for the biggest coordinated programme of spam in the history of the internet.
The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation came into force last Friday. It gives you back control over your personal data and all companies and organisations will need to alert you if they hold any of it. Henceforth any online service that you have ever used will have recently sent you an email. Perhaps you might have tried to pretend to act like an informed consumer for a while, before abandoning this wooden and unwilling performance. If you had really read each of the emails that had clogged up your inbox, you would have got through the equivalent of Russia’s entire literary output. But nobody has read any of these emails. Never has so much online correspondence been laboriously composed and instantly deleted as it was in the wake of the GDPR.
This shows up two things about democracy within the EU.
Firstly, it is that there is no democracy within the EU or at least none of a democracy’s active reality. Democracy is the idea that we, the ordinary people, are in charge and that we should decide which policies are put into effect. The GDPR, however, has been spirited of nowhere without anybody having voted for it or okayed it. If you stopped random people in Tesco and asked them for the reason behind this new regulation (outrage at Edward Snowden’s leaks about US data-harvesting), I doubt that one in a thousand could tell you it. So the GDPR demonstrates the papal mysteriousness of the EU – that it is a law unto itself. Who can say what it will do next?
Secondly, it is that democracy cannot be as easily ignored or forgotten about as supporters of the EU would like. The EU’s loyalists essentially wish to privatise political decision-making, exporting it out to a faraway corporation to deal with, so that we can replace our responsibilities for self-government with preening ourselves on social media. The GDPR is so offensive, in this respect, because it is so conspicuous. Oh no, your beloved phone is chirruping every five minutes as it sails through the meteor shower of incoming emails, taking hit after hit. This destroys the infantile fantasy that politics can be ever silent, invisible, streamlined, and flavourless.
By the way, I am obliged to point out that while you are reading this, WordPress is teleporting cookies out of your kitchen and into my own. That’s where they’ve all gone. Next, it will turn on your webcam and take scans of your brain which it will then upload on to a CIA database, so that we can send you recommendations, subliminally and through vibrations in your drinking water, about brands of cookies that you might wish to purchase for me in the future. I would mention that I currently like Raspberry, White Chocolate & Pistachio, but you already, on some level, know this.
This week, people are in danger of realising that the EU that is so benign and kind and helpful at organising capitalism is also the same EU that is trashing Italy. Of course, being a Remainer means pulling up the drawbridge, turning inwards, closing your mind, and cultivating a strenuous ignorance of everything that is happening on the continent. The EU is all about clean air regulations in your neighbourhood and it is not about the riots and hunger in their neighbourhoods, faraway over the English Channel.
Italy has become so gangrenous under the Euro that amputation is being increasingly contemplated. There has been no economic growth in Italy since it adopted the currency in 1999 and living standards have stagnated. The leading counter-arguments seem to propose that amputation will be too much of a shock, rather than that the limb is in any way recoverable. But although it is always a simple pleasure to bash the Euro, the challenge for Italy’s populists is more particularly to renegotiate their way out of the Eurozone’s rules against running high budget deficits. And here they are hindered by the contempt for democracy that is the very pathology of the EU.
There is presently a lot of humbug in the UK about this. Italy’s populist Five Star Movement favours the same public spending that the crowd-pleasing Jeremy Corbyn wants to see in the UK, but this is not permitted as an alternative within the Eurozone. Since many of Corbyn’s supporters have signed up to preserving Brussels’ powers, any potential solidarity with the Five Star Movement has been quietly jettisoned. They have to turn their faces against their own politics and remain silent as the Five Star Movement is squashed. This demonstrates their prioritisation of the EU’s anti-democratic restrictions over actual, real-life socialism.
You will have heard men of a certain age joking this week that Italian governments keep collapsing because the Italians are somehow innately quarrelsome and chaotic. It is admittedly ominous that Italy has moved on from fascism by replicating the instability of the Weimar Republic. Yet the stalling and dithering within the Italian system – a system that had last October introduced a new electoral law to specifically prevent the anti-coalition Five Star Movement from winning – are merely a local manifestation of the pseudo-constitutional checks-and-balances that reign throughout the EU. An ethic in which nobody can win elections and everybody has to horse-trade away all of their ideas to be in power and the status quo is invariably left without a scratch.
The job for Italy’s populists is to build a gigantic and fearless public consensus that can sweep away their vast hegemony of obstacles. Politics in Italy will need to become big and revolutionary rather than small and managerial and unobtrusive. I am not sure that power yet firmly lies with Italy’s reforming populists, any more than it lies with our breakaway Brexiteers, but the fact is that anybody who holds the political initiative today is growing fat off strips torn from the EU’s carcass. As the flesh crumbles and the maggots swarm, this depleted project hasn’t got a leg left to kick and there is nowhere left for it to go.
I heard that finally, as a last gasp, President Jean-Claude Juncker phoned up Madeleina Kay, the EU supergirl, and begged her to fly down into Rome and rescue the EU. Amongst the Jurassic Park of lords and has-beens on the Remain side, Madeleina is the only young person in the UK who is actively campaigning for the EU, rather than merely posting petulant comments about it on Twitter. The supergirl had been previously in Greece, beating up pensioners and trade unionists. She soared down in her hot pants and with her faithful white wolf Alba. The wolf still had a trouser leg dangling from her jaws that she had torn off a villainous Greek teacher who had been protesting about the 20% cut to his salary.
Madeleina explained to the Italians that the EU was responsible for everything good in their country, from clean beaches and animal rights protections to academic collaboration and infrastructure funds. All of the independent democracies outside the EU did not have these things or the wherewithal to ever achieve them. The Italian parliament listened politely but unfortunately speaking or understanding Italian did not number amongst the EU supergirl’s superpowers.