Thursday, February 16, 2012
Daniel Hannan praises a federal system
Lev Eakins has drawn my attention to a speech by the eurosceptic Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, speaking to the gathering of American Conservatives known as CPAC.
Hannan's thesis is that the American Constitution is wonderful and he warns Americans not to follow what he regards as the European example of centralisation and too much government. The speech is a tour-de-force which flatters his audience and plays to their deepest prejudices. It is also disingenuous and dishonest. This man is not stupid. He's wrong.
Everyday of his political life he has resisted a federal Europe but here he is praising the federal system of the United States, which is one of the main sources of inspiration for European federalists. This sleight of hand is accomplished by never describing the American constitution as federal, only as republican. The magic is concealed by rhetorical misdirection. In one sentence he applauds the institutions created by the Philadelphia Convention and in the next he warns against the European example of "more government". When the American founding fathers set up a Presidency and a Congress and a Supreme Court, it was an example to mankind, "which would work everywhere". When the European Union's founding fathers set up the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Court of Justice, it's just "more government".
Hannan compared the ratification of the US Constitution favourably to the rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty in referendums in three countries. No surprise of course that he failed to mention that the American founding fathers wisely specified that the new constitution would come into effect when 9 out of 13 states had ratified. The EU was saddled with the need for unanimity. (I have written elsewhere about this and will copy the full text in a separate post).
Hannan proceeded to quote Jefferson's criticisms of George III as apposite to his view of the EU, talking of far away government. Never mind that the American colonies were held by force whereas EU Member-States have all chosen freely to belong. The EU is NOT an empire, it is a union of separate states like....erm...oh yes, the USA !
Hannan also contrasted the famous text of the Declaration of Independence, "These truths we hold to be self-evident..."etc with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which he did not quote, being content to refer contemptuously to the right to strike. I'll grant that eighteenth century prose was better, not being filtered through fifteen or more foreign offices, but he could have cited the preamble thus:
"The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values. Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice."
He repeatedly warned against moving power to Washington, saying this was the European example. "We are at the end of the road you are set upon", he told his American audience. Hannan is not stupid. Presumably he knows that the US Federal Government already accounts for something like 60% of all US government spending and over 20% of GDP whereas the EU's expenditure is a tiny fraction of public spending across the 27 member-states and between 1 and 2% GDP.(More figures here). The EU has limited power in defined sectors whereas Washington has enormous power. His warning is nonsensical.
Hannan said the US was suffering from "Europeanisation" mentioning health-care and carbon taxes particularly. This went down well with his conservative audience who must be oblivious to the fact that US spending on health-care has outstripped Europe's as a proportion of national income yet fails unlike most European systems to provide health-care for all citizens. I suppose to an audience of climate-change-deniers carbon taxes sound unnecessary.
Hannan is a lively and engaging speaker. So was Hitler. In his own pernicious way Hannan is dangerous too, he distorts truth with a mix of humour and flattery for his audience. We should not admire his rhetorical skill when it conceals the lies he peddles.