Rupert Matthews is a freelance writer who has had over 150 books published, mostly on historical subjects. He was recently one of the MEP candidates in the East Midlands for the Conservative Party. Here he expands on a subject raised last month by Tim Montgomerie.
Over the past few weeks there have been some postings on ConHome, and elsewhere, that have referred to the European Union not as the EU but as the EUSSR. The use of the term was denounced by some and defended by others.
So in an idle moment I thought I would compare the two states to see if the tag was justified.
At first glance, of course, there are both similarities and differences. The EU is and the USSR was a multi-national conglomeration of states. On the other hand the EU has no counterpart of the NKVD or KGB that goes around murdering hundreds of thousands of people without trial.
It came as something of a surprise to me when I started reading the Constitution of the USSR that it was amazingly democratic. The citizens of the USSR were granted the right to freedom of speech, to freedom of assembly and to freedom of relgion and the freedom of the press was guranteed. All elections were on the basis of universal suffrage and all votes were by secret ballot. Not only that but the Constitution granted a number of rights not generally known elsewhere – such as the right to work, the right to artistic integrity, the right to housing, the right to health care and the right to enjoy national culture.
Moreover, all positions in the government structure were democratically elected. There was a well-defined balance of powers between the member states and the Union which gave wide ranging and impressive powers and freedoms to the states. The institutions of the central Union were set up and their powers described, all of them most democratic.
Of course, the USSR was not a democracy. The brutal and murderous dictatorship that in fact existed was made possible by a few provisions within the constitution that gave the Communist Party heirarchy sweeping powers. Article 39, for instance stated that: “Enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of citizens must not be to the detriment of the interests of society or the state.” The power to decide how this should be enforced was in the hands of the Party elite. Then Article 6 banned political parties other than the Communist Party – so elections were free and fair in the sense that the people could elect whichever Communist they liked.
In practice, however, the key element was the highly tiered nature of the Soviet structure and the many years it took to progress through it. The people could elect their local soviet, which then elected a person to the next body up and so on to the Supreme Soviet, which elected those that held the real power. At each step a person wanting to progress further had to show absolute loyalty to the Communist Party.
Even if a person entered the local soviet determined to do what was right by the people, it would be decades before he could hope to reach a position of real power – decades in which he would have had to profess and demonstrate loyalty to Communism. By the time he got to where he could achieve anything, he would be a slave to the system. There was, in effect, a self-selecting oligarchy that kept power to itself and allowed in as new members only those fully signed up to its own principles.
Now look at the European Union. The new constitution enacted by the Lisbon Treaty has created a state that is composed of a number of member states. The constitution lays down which powers are to be exercised by the member states and which by the Union. It sets out exensive rights to the individual in the form of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The instutitions of the central Union are set out and their powers described, all very democratic and proper.
However, the EU reserves to itself the right to suspend any of the rights granted to its citizens if this is necessary for the good of the Union. Such sweeping powers would no doubt be useful, even necessary, in times of war. But no such restriction is imposed.
More relevant to the comparison with the USSR, perhaps, is the way in which power and democracy mesh. We the people can elect councillors, MPs and MEPs – but the power lies with Commissioners, bureaucrats and Ministers. Just as in the USSR, a person has to serve years in relatively powerless positions displaying loyalty to the EU before he or she is allowed to progress. The ordinary MP has no real power in the EU structure, but can elect a Prime Minister who does. An ordinary MEP has very little power, but can elect group leaders, rapporteurs and others who have a bit more (though to be honest not much).
The ways in which dissent can be discouraged are many and varied. Each MEP, for instance, sits on a committee liaising with parliamentarians in other countries. While some MEPs jetted of to Washington, Canberra or Cape Town our own Roger Helmer was sent to North Korea.
There can be no doubt that there are similarities between the constitutions of the EU and the USSR. Both talk loudly about freedoms and democracy. Both hide power behind a multi-layered façade so that it remains in the hands of a self-selecting oligarchy. On the other hand, multi-party elections are allowed in the EU and nobody has been shot in the back of the head by an official executioner of political undesirables.
So is that tag of EUSSR justified? Over to you…