Is Centralised Better?

We all know what a despot is… they run places like Russia, North Korea, Belarus and quite a few other countries. Trump tried his best to control everything in the USA, but voters had a different vision. In any event the 50 states and Washington DC run quite a lot of important matters and that stops crazy presidents from totally trashing democracy…

In the Nordic countries we also have a power sharing between the central government and the regions – the municipalities. Naturally they are all joined at the hip by money and legislation, but the split results in reasonably healthy results where the good and the bad get balanced out.

Recently Rabbi Jonathan Sacks died and even though he had nothing to do with the Nordics, he understood our way of thinking – he talked about the importance of avoiding the political extremes and the importance of us being responsible for our own actions, with guidance from above – taken in the broadest sense. He was an excellent and wise speaker who often spoke about the need to focus on “US” rather than “SELF”,(see this TED talk). He reiterated the fact that you can only solve things like the Covid pandemic when all, or most of us, behave responsibly. Politicians are powerless without us taking that responsibility to be careful, like wearing masks when near others, maintaining a 2 meter distance, and washing your hands… We all know what happens if these simple rules and recommendations are flouted. Leaders must seek wide compromises and workable solutions and not engage in partisan bickering or self promotion. 

In the Nordics, we have split up power between the two levels of government – central and local. Legislation and processes have been in place for decades and changes are generally rather gradual. The system works well by giving a voice to residents in national and local politics. 

Most of the northern European countries have had this system in place for centuries and it has remained so even through wars and strife. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy have them but other countries in Europe without them may end up with weaker economies and leaders like Johnson, Hungary’s and Romania’s Orbans, and Poland’s Duda… They fill the heavens with fake news, blame others and expect us to help them out when times get tough. Let’s see how long it takes for the Brits to start asking for economic support from the IMF – they actually did that last time in the 1970’s.

More centralised systems are being mooted and tested in the EU too, and that gives rise to some strong disagreements between member states. The EU wants to have a bigger budget. The EU Parliament wants to have a bigger say in member states’ affairs. The EU has discussed a banking union with a joint deposit insurance scheme, and the EU wants to issue their own debt in the bond market with joint and several guarantees from the member states. France and Italy have been pushing hard for these because they have a weaker banking system and are exposed because bonus-rich bank bosses have been playing the moral hazard game… The German’s too have also started to move towards a EU federal solution even though they have been the most wary of this in the past. The problem is that the big countries can make decisions that are binding on the smaller countries who can feel pressured if they speak out against the big boys. 

Who wants to be in the bad books of Germany when you never know what is going to happen in the future and support from Germany may be needed?

The EU was never created to be a federal state and that will never become a reality when the diversity between nations is so great. We are so different in terms of our economies, our countries’ sizes, our economic strengths and weaknesses, and our histories and cultures. The EU was created as a free trade region, where jobs, goods and services were said to be freely transferable. Nothing could be further from the truth today – the paperwork and bureaucracy is mind-boggling. Huge lobbies from the big industries and big governments define what happens next, and the will of the people is but a squeak from under the floorboards The EU’s constitution is a mess as is its governance is weakly controlled for the benefit of a few.

Just take the simple example of the power sharing between the political groupings in the EU Parliament, the rife nepotism, EU grants and funds ending up in the hands of criminal gangs, and sinecures held by former Commissioners. Anything is possible for them and much, much less for us the simple folk that live in the member states far from Brussels.

In our respective nations, the residents of the member states have a strong belief that we have a great degree of control over our national politicians in our own Parliaments compared to those who are mean to represent us in Brussels. That is far from being optimal, and a very good reason for opposing more centralisation of power into the EU.

But Brussels is not all bad. Some areas of progress towards harmonisation is needed and important. We already have it in many areas and that is appropriate for services and goods. We need a working infrastructure for networks (rail, road, power, and communication); we need clarity on joint healthcare and on safety and security; we need harmonisation on basic legal rights and the Rule of Law. We also need to spread and uphold our version of democracy, human rights and the protection of the environment. But all of these matters are for scientists, medical specialists and legal experts to manage. We do not need a forth or fifth layer of government – that would really be pushing all of many of these grand efforts over the last 75 years into the ditch, and that would not be good…

The New York Times recently published a short conversation between 2 writers – one said “my biggest worry, though, is that we’re living in a country where the Dow just hit 30,000 at the same time that people are waiting in line for hours at food banks. That’s a recipe for potentially catastrophic social friction.” (NYT 30.11.2020 By Gail Collins and Bret Stephens) 

It is the same thing in Europe too…

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