When Internationalism fails

While International bodies enable cooperation, sharing of resources and compatibility of laws, there exist inherent perils of bureaucracy without democracy. In the absence of transparent communication and channels of participation, International bodies might be seen as authoritarian.

Brexit is a stunning example of failure of a supra-state, the European Union. 28 diverse nation states constitute this confederation that facilitate a common currency, cross border mobility and free trade. The union’s constitution and parliament set a basis and framework for political cohesiveness. The EU was seen by many as a model of Global integration. Jeremy Rifkin, author of “The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream,” predicted EU to be a future world Super power.

Alas, the European Union is far from perfect. And it just got even further from it. An influential member, Britain recently voted decisively voted to exit the union. A referendum to leave Europe was won by those who voted to leave by 52% to 48% for stay. The referendum turnout was 71.8%. There could be more exits. France, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Finland, and Hungary might run the idea of holding referendums in the future to reconsider their membership in the union.

The above challenges in the EU point to serious fault lines of International organizations. EU is almost perfect with its arrangement of institutions like the Parliament, the central bank and Court of Justice of the European Union. But starkly wanting is demos — the people. EU easily comes across as a super nation without people of its own. While the structure of EU allow for extreme mobility across nations, this automatically does not bring people more together. An Italian might still see a French as one his own. A European Union will not necessarily create conditions for a deeper “European” identity.

But an Italian might find himself among Polish or Greeks competing for his his jobs or public goods. And it is not a hard guess that he might feel a sense of resentment. His resentment is an easy political capital for ultra nationalist political parties that build narrative against migrants and evoke fears that they will takeover the country. The success of such a narrative was well demonstrated during Brexit.

A citizen has almost no influence over the international body that his country might be a member of. However, his life is impacted by the decisions taken by that International body. The EU model includes a European parliament, however the parliament does not have the right to frame legislations. The International body then appears as authoritarian.

Political mediation and communication are key to balance the bureaucratic isolation and autonomy of International institutions. A fine balance of fulfilling the demands of international institutions and aspirations of the home constituencies is not just desirable but pertinent. The argument is not against internationalism but for creating institutions that don’t derive their legitimacy merely from the consent of member nations but also through sturdy mechanics of accountability and transparency.

In conclusion, the answer to the fear of authoritarian Internationalism is not less internationalism. There is no one answer but it will be good to explore methods that will allow citizens to participate in the organisations that exist for them.

Ramanjit is a Research analyst with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @patialablue

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