Tuesday 24 March 2009

The European Union and the Chinese Communist Party - twin brothers by different mothers?

With the economic crisis going into full swing, voices of gloom and doom are being raised around the world. Two organisations in particular have been slated for trouble - the EU and the CCP. According to Chinese dissident Minxin Pei, China's elite could soon be at each other's throats:

Rising social discontent may not be enough to force the party out of power, but it might be sufficient to tempt some members of the elite to exploit the situation to their own political advantage. Such political entrepreneurs could use populist appeals to weaken their rivals and, in the process, open up divisions within the party's seemingly unified upper ranks.

At the same time, on the other side of the globe, the EU is beset with increasing protectionism and outright racism. From this brave American reporter who dared to step into the ghetto that is Shepherd's Bush we learn this:

Anger against foreigners in Shepherd's Bush, my slightly seedy neighbourhood of West London, is not hard to find. A late-night visit to a convenience store or a kebab shop often presents the spectacle of angry natives -- usually drunk and probably unemployed -- cursing at the lack of fellow countrymen working in the neighbourhood. Their language is crude, but their analysis is hard to dispute: the store on my corner has Poles behind the cash registers and Pakistanis sweeping the floors.

As convincing as these tales of woe are, I beg to differ, and I think the arguments for saying that the EU is here to stay are very similar to those which show us why the CCP is not going anywhere soon. However, before I go any further I would like to say that, in comparing the two, I am in no way implying that that wonderful organisation brought about to unite, enrich, and harmonise a people previously separated by conflict is in anyway similar to the other undemocratic and byzantine institution*. No, but the reasons why they're both going to outlast that Kindle 2 you may be reading this on are similar. Let's turn to Wan Runnan's now famous six reasons "Why The Chinese Communists Are Not Doomed To Finish Yet":

"1. From the lessons of the former Soviet Russia and eastern Europe, the Communist Party is more firm and clear about suppressing the opposition;

At first glance the EU has no lessons to learn from the Soviet Union (indeed, they could teach them a thing or two), so you would think this one can be skipped over. However, a brief review of recent history shows how unwilling EU officials have been to concede any of their jurisdiction to other bodies. The history of the European Patent Litigation Agreement being a case in point.

2. After forming alliances, the Communist Party has established a relatively stable international environment;

The EU is one of the essential guarantors of peace within Europe, not only this, but the EU now allows collective bargaining through a single representative on the world stage at organisation like the WTO. More than this, although stresses were brought about through the siding of 'New Europe' with the USA in the war on terror, this devide is now largely healed, not least because of the perceived failure of that war.

3. The continuous economic development has provided adequate resources for improving their ability to govern;

EU membership has brought growth to southern and central European countries. No economic miracles have taken place, but the fact that the EU regulates the single market, which millions of jobs now rely on, is another reason why we have not seen the end of it.

4. Under the pretext of "we won't argue," the Communist Party has actually totally abandoned their former ideology;

Despite much of the rhetoric surrounding it, even a casual reading of the Lisbon treaty shows it to be, as Sussex University's very own Prof. Malcolm Ross describes it, "The most Eurosceptic treaty ever". The requirement for liaison with national parliaments, the reservation of powers to the member states, is a world away from the talk of the sharing of sovereignty over an ever-widening array of areas that was heard during the negotiations surrounding the European Constitution. The only conclusion can be that radical European unionism is no longer the driving force behind the EU.

5. The Communist Party has become a political party that represents wealthy people and the social elite. This newly created middle class is the foundation of stability in Chinese society today;

In two months time I, like millions of other European law and politics students, will walk into an exam hall and do battle with words like subsidiarity, horizontal direct effect, direct applicability, negative harmonisation, proportionality, indistinct discriminatory measures and a myriad other such vague and ill-defined concepts. Not only that, but I'm writing a dissertation on the interaction between European competition law and the abusive use of IP rights. Presuming I survive this ordeal, I will have joined the ranks of those with an interest in seeing that the current structure of the EU is not done away with. Whatever my private view of the EU, my economic interest will most likely lie with its continued existence.

Add to this the farmers, migrant workers, holiday-makers, shippers, hauliers, trademark and design agent whose businesses rely in part or in whole upon the EU, and you have an ever-widening group of people likely to support it.

6. The confirmation of their model for power succession has eliminated the concerns about their ability to maintain government.

The EU also has regular succession, with the added advantage that so few ordinary people either know or care who is in charge that there is little chance of public outcry sweeping an EU official from power.

In conclusion, whilst protectionism in Europe will raise challenges, these problems are no greater than those raised in the Factortame case. Whilst the bottom may have fallen out of the EU's driving ideology, it is already too late for its disappearance to mean the end of the EU. With every community trademark registered, with every EU decision against a national government, with every person who makes use of the four freedoms, the EU reaffirms its right to exist. Just as with the Chinese communist party, despite the widespread and powerfully convincing criticism which is levelled against it, there is no other force which can step into the vacuum and perform the same purpose even half as well.

*Which is which? Answers on a postcard to 'Wish I Knew' 999 Acacia Avenue

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