David Cameron’s European dilemma – Capitalism and consensuses

Prime Minister David Cameron

Zafer Iqbal argues British interests are primarily determined by a small economic elite applying pressure on the political elite. The political elite expect to be part of a fully participative consultation process to achieve such interests especially when selecting representatives.

Last week we saw British Prime Minister David Cameron vehemently opposing the selection of pro-European Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission.

Juncker is seen as a pro-European insider, a consensus builder, so has won the support of most European states. Cameron strongly opposed him, even forcing a vote, resulting in Juncker gaining 26 out of the 28 possible votes. Humiliated, Cameron was then ridiculed by sections of the press.

This incident highlights the structure and nature of European consensus politics, exposing not only Britain’s self-interested approach, but also the driving factors.

Cameron and the Capitalists

Following UKIP gains at recent elections having campaigned on restricting immigration and autonomy from Europe, dissatisfaction amongst Tory rank and file was spreading, adding pressure on the mainstream parties to curb immigration and limit European interference.

Cameron however faces pressures from business and industry which requires foreign expertise and skills as well as tourists and students. So curtailing immigration is a problem. Cameron needs to show his party is tough on immigration whilst ensuring highly-skilled and high net worth individuals are allowed in.

The solution? Limit free movement in the EU which reduces inflows of those that don’t meet these criteria.

This logic underpins his objections to Juncker, who is pro-integrationist, strongly opposed to such policies.

eu_2259316bThe financial sector however responded negatively to Cameron’s approach. It wanted Cameron to focus British demands on reducing EU regulation of the city’s activities. Failing to persuade Cameron informally, they published their demands on the front pages of Murdoch’s Sunday Times last week. They claimed over 50 bankers had sent an open letter to Cameron warning that between them they employed a million people and supplied the treasury with over £40 billion in annual tax revenues – they should be his first priority.

Other business organisations added their voices, reminding Cameron to focus his efforts on the financial sector, reiterating how Germany defends its automobile industry, the French its agricultural sector and the Italians their clothing industry. They provided an ominous warning that the UK may need to consider withdrawing from the EU.

Ignoring their demands led to a number of negative headlines through the week, particularly in papers owned by Murdoch and the Barclay brothers. The Times saw Ian Duncan Smith claim Britain may leave the EU, whilst the Telegraph’s unashamed headlines claimed shock, horror, Juncker was a drunkard!

Capitalist Consensus Politics

Unlike traditional competitive elections, EU presidents are selected on the basis of consensus politics.

Elections allow participants to simply express a preference for one out of a number of pre-selected arrangements via a vote – nothing more, nothing less. These are aggregated and the greatest number wins. It entails and encourages competition, meeting only some interests, lacks participants’ contributions, and minorities generally get ignored due to lack of voting power.

Consensus politics however advocates a different approach. It aims to be: – Agreement Seeking: the process attempts to help everyone get what they need, – Collaborative: participants contribute to proposals and shape them into a decision that meets the concerns of all as much as possible, – Cooperative: participants strive to reach the best possible decision for society, – Egalitarian: all are able to present and amend proposals.

Consensus principles appear in countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Belgium to prevent domination of one linguistic or cultural group.

The selection of EU presidents utilises a consensus based approach, where all member states collaborate and collectively seek an agreement satisfactory to all.

There was a general consensus on Juncker with Britain objecting in typical fashion.

Given a consensus could not achieved, compromises were attempted, economic portfolios were offered to Britain all of which were refused. This forced a vote to be taken of all members – resulting in 26 states agreeing on Juncker, with Britain and Hungary opposing. Europe will thus move forward with Juncker.

What’s the problem?

Flags_of_European_UnionWhilst there are many problems with democracy, fundamental issues surrounding the electoral perspective usually command little attention.

Political elites have instituted a different “mechanism” when selecting their leaders in Europe, one that stands in stark contrast to those their populations are expected to pursue when selecting their leaders. The former is based on consensus politics whilst the latter on competitive politics.

The differences arise from the fact that selection of particular leaders and policies by the masses is deemed unimportant – it is an internal matter for the parties, not Joe public.

The public are simply expected to express a preference for pre-selected individuals whose loyalty will be to the party first and foremost whose policies will be applied as the party knows best. It is for this reason that many are alienated from politics in the West; their opinions, needs and views are not genuinely taken into account nor are their interests of importance. Muslims encounter this problem on a daily basis, with most of their faith based needs not catered for.

So what’s the alternative?

The sharia requires a “consultation” to be undertaken with the aim of achieving a consensus (ijma). This makes its politics consensus based, diametrically opposed to competitive approaches.

The famous Quranic verses requests, “And those who have responded to their lord and established prayer and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves…” (Quran 42:38)

When selecting a ruler, views and opinions of Muslims must be taken into account through processes designed to facilitate a genuine consultation.

If numbers become unmanageable, representatives can be chosen who participate on behalf of a larger numbers. It is expected all efforts are made to explore all avenues to achieve a consensus. If a consensus cannot be reached, processes must be devised to get as close as possible to a consensus.

A review of the Prophet’s (saw) rise to power in Medina reveals a consultation process between the Aus and Khazraj leadership resulting in a consensus.

Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra) were selected following consultation and consensus after the death of the Prophet (saw).

Uthman (ra) was selected through an institutional process suggested by Umar (ra) where representatives should gather, surrounded by troops; if they could not achieve a consensus in a given timeframe, the dissenters should be put to death.

Finally if a consensus cannot be reached, and there is no mechanism to address those who pursue selfish interests, a polity can fragment and fall into dissention.

One only has to look at UK threats of leaving the EU.

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