Sunday, April 30, 2017

Descending Mount Sovereignty

The Economist had an article a few weeks ago about how the British are starting to realize that Brexit as it was explained to them does not exist. The magazine announced the article as "Descending Mount Brexit." There are similar phenomena in many places. Nation-states believe they are sovereign, but they are not. They believe they are independent, but they are not: "The Europeans also stand to lose from a shallow trade deal. Their hope is that Britain will seek to converge with EU rules once the regulatory trade-offs become apparent. Should the talks proceed relatively smoothly, in time the two sides may find themselves building, law by law, institution by institution, a regime not dissimilar from the one they are preparing to dismantle. There are signs of this already. It is an “absurd” exercise, says an EU official. We are reinventing many of the instruments we already have." It may thus well happen that an agreement will look very similar to the institutions that were in place just before the referendum, and that remain in place today, with the only difference that the UK government will not be sitting on the table where decisions are made. Donald Trump thought that he could also stop the rotation of the Planet building walls and backpedalling on trade deals, but he is realizing that most things he promised ("bring back coal") are not feasible in our interconnected world. Even Marine Le Pen I just heard that, as she is trying to broaden her appeal, has said that now she does not want to abandon the euro, just create a national currency that coexists with the common European one. She is trying to replace one type of monetary chaos with another one because she is realizing that most probably it would just be too costly to abandon the euro. The far left French candidate Melenchon cannot make his mind between Mrs. Le Pen, a Holocaust negationist, and a pro-European candidate, because he shares with the Front National the XIX-century notion that socialism, or any political project, can be built in only one country, as if François Mitterrand had not had to change policy in 1981 when he tried to do precisely that. In 2017 the world and France are much more interconnected than in 1981. All these national-populists keep promising impossible things in our global reality, but the things they say are simple and appealing to many voters. In Catalonia, a tourist guide just told an American friend of mine that the Spanish government does not allow a free and fair referendum about Catalan Independence. Although the Spanish government is handling the Catalan question very opportunistically (because extreme nationalisms feed each other), the Catalan government and the Catalan secessionists are not trying to call a free and fair referendum, but a referendum controlled by one side without a neutral media and without neutral rules, and not based on the legal framework and broad consensus that international institutions demand in the extreme cases where similar votes are necessary. "National" self-determination is an example of a superficially persuasive idea, but the fact is that most democracies in the world do not allow the self-determination of parts of their territory through binary referenda, that is through divisive plebiscites where lies and threats are exchanged (like in the Brexit referendum). We have in fact in our land more free and fair elections than any country in the world, but governments at different levels quite obviously cannot call a referendum on any topic that crosses their mind and that goes beyond their responsibilities. But democracies only split or unify through broad consensus and international agreement, and if they do so the issues are very complex and can be traumatic. Many of our voters are open instead to hear simplistic messages because they were raised in a frame of mind where the relevant unit was one country, with one flag, one language, one currency, one army and one football league. That world is gone. If we do not build a multi-level democracy for our complex Planet, we will not have democracy any more.

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