“Open Europe,” the organization that follows events on the European continent, issued a report recently that attempts to address an obvious question: If the United Kingdom embraces European Union (E.U.) legislation how will the average person be affected or, put more directly, will the average person be affected?
Most people assume that the Brussels bureaucracy is far away literally and figuratively. What they may not realize is that the Lisbon Treaty exerts enormous influence over daily lives from the critical to the mundane.
In fact, the Lisbon Treaty will reduce Britain’s ability to block E.U. legislation including items that influence quotidian decisions. For example, as a result of an E.U. decision to require more wind turbines to generate electricity, electric bills and the tab for water distribution will increase.
Some requirements are utterly bizarre, such as using the same font on cigarette packets. Others fall into the category of nuisance items: phasing out incandescent bulbs, banning vitamins and eliminating the use of pounds sterling.
Other requirements have a paternalistic quality to them, such as insistence that children as old as twelve use car booster seats and that all new car owners must keep headlights on during the day.
Perhaps the most noteworthy reform (if I may call it that) is that the U.K. government will be unable to expel criminals without the permission of E.U. authorities. I wonder how the public would respond to a referendum on this matter.
Then, of course, there is the range of economic issues. Television advertising rules will have to be harmonized with the rest of the continent. British workers would be banned from earning higher wages instead of taking vacations. A majority of new regulations will influence business operations including the nature of downsizing should that be necessary. And the number of training hours for physicians will be specified in order to control medical costs, notwithstanding the effect this decision may have on patient safety and care.
This harmonization project will not only alter the British society; it is an assault on human nature. It assumes that every aspect of life can be regulated in order to create a continental united states. What this approach overlooks are historical antecedents, the very conditions that separate Italians from the French and the British from the Germans.
In the minds of bureaucrats, harmonization is a challenge they welcome. It is a manifestation of the post democratic sensibility. After all, to whom are these bureaucrats responsible? And to what degree do they represent the will of the people?
This is indeed an odd historical moment. A democracy that people often take for granted is challenged by a “soft” authoritarianism that is barely recognized by the public at large. If there was a referendum or several such referenda that would be one thing, but, in fact, most of the anticipated regulations will occur below the radar.
It is remarkable that Britain, the lodestar of democracy, may have its most essential tradition trampled by decisions in Belgium and largely unrecognized by the population it is designed to affect.