Debate: Leviathan is here, in Brussels
25 březen 2011
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Brussels is the lair of a bureaucratic monster, writes the German essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger. It’s up to the Europeans themselves now to take up their pitchforks.
While the people of the Arab world are rising up and calling for self-determination and democracy, Europe is sinking into despotism. Its democratic traditions are being eroded and destroyed, its citizens harassed and patronised. The power that the people have delegated to their representatives has clandestinely moved on, has withdrawn to an inaccessible place that no human eye has ever seen. Who is really in charge? Where do all the strings come together, and who is gripping them in their hands, and for what purpose? No one really knows. Laws and regulations are passed, but the inhabitants of the old world no longer understand their wording. One might almost think that a race of aliens had landed quietly on earth and taken over Europe first, perhaps because its members thrive there. It is the land of the technocrats. This is no dystopian novel sketching out a plot for the subjugation of Europe by an anonymous power, but an essay. Not fiction then, but a text that takes its subject matter from reality in order to describe it and to analyse it. Its author is not a Hercules who has set himself the task of cleaning out Europe’s Augean stables. He merely wants to awaken the cattle that tarry there. Their number, however, is huge: about five hundred million.
The unquestionable blessings from European integration
That’s how many people currently live in the European Union. Each of them should take the time to read the nearly seventy pages that have just been published by Hans Magnus Enzensberger under the title Brussels, the Gentle Monster. Or: The Disenfranchisement of Europe. The publication is the German equivalent of Stéphane Hessel’s call to arms, Indignez-vous! (Get Angry!), which has sold a million copies in the French homeland of its 93-year-old author. Enzensberger also aims to outrage and to galvanise. To do so, however, he wheels out not the excited grand gesture but the sober, quiet argument. Enzensberger has done his homework. Patiently he lists the facts and builds his case up with items of evidence, like in a criminal prosecution. Merely to engage in polemics against the EU is not what he’s after; he wants, rather, to unmask the lust for power in his inexorably onwards-rolling monster. This monster has a history. But hardly anyone knows it. Enzensberger begins with reflections on the unquestionable blessings from European integration. Six decades, almost a whole lifetime, without war, travel made easy, freedom of movement, and steps taken to break up “cartels, monopolies and protectionist trickery” – all this is lauded. From there he looks into the “language guides” of a “history-deaf” EU, whose highest officials are described as “commissioners” – as if European history had known neither Soviet commissars nor the Volkskommissare (People’s Commissioners) of the Nazi Reich. Enzensberger then describes the structure and procedure of the commissions, which for example set threshold limits for “hand, arm and whole-body vibration” when working with pneumatic hammers; which establish the minimum length of European condoms; and which want us in future to use a combination of between thirty-three to forty-two digits for each simple bank transfer. From 2013, BIC and IBAN are to be mandatory even for domestic transfers. On the small island of Malta, the IBAN consists of 31 digits. That means “3,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible account numbers, which are to be further refined and made more precise yet by an additional ten billion BIC numbers”. This for a population of about 400,000 Maltese.
The precariousness of democracy in the Union
It’s easy to make fun of the rampant mischief being hatched in the name of Europe by hordes of mostly extremely well-paid civil servants. But it is almost impossible to navigate the jungle of committees, secretariats, Directorates-General and countless other institutions and entities that have settled and burgeoned in Brussels and Luxembourg in the best “Kakanien” tradition (a reference to the ‘liberal-clerical’ Dual Monarchy of Austro-Hungary from the novel Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil). Who knows anything about the EU-OSHA, whose duties lie in the field of health and safety at work? This EU body has 64 employees, whose activities are controlled by 84 directors sitting on boards. Any more questions? It’s fun at first to scroll through the excesses of a runway bureaucracy in Brussels, but it soon becomes wearying. Not a lot has been gained. And so this little publication digs a little deeper. For Enzensberger, it’s about the lack of legitimacy of a power apparatus that, on behalf of European citizens and in their name, enacts laws and regulations that by now probably fill about 150,000 pages – and yet that unscrupulously ignores the basic rules of its own constitution, which is revealed again in its approach to the Stability and Growth Pact. Enzensberger’s core thesis focuses on the precariousness of democracy as we understand it in the Union, which in the intoxication of rule-mongering is showing increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Together with Robert Menasse, Enzensberger concludes with posing the question of whether the traditional understanding of democracy is something Brussels remains committed to, or whether democracy is not seen rather as an obstacle that Brussels will work assiduously towards shifting aside. The European Union is on the way to disenfranchising its citizens. Only we Europeans can stop them. Translated from the German by Anton Baer
Hans-Magnus Enzesberger's essay will be published in English by Sea Gull.