Thursday 2 February 2012

Decentralism and the EU

Yesterday’s post about the EU and structural funding actually goes to the heart of one of the issues which I’ve always found hardest in terms of political philosophy.  It also relates to one of the issues which Plaid Cymru has found difficult for decades, and never really got to grips with, as the recent report of the party’s review identified.
What exactly is decentralised socialism?  It’s not that there aren’t definitions around, of course there are.  It’s more that, in some ways, the two concepts (decentralism and socialism) don’t always mesh together very well.  And the reason that I’ve found it difficult is that I consider myself to be both a socialist and a decentralist, and whilst it’s comparatively easy to support both positions in theory, it can be difficult when it comes to specifics.
As a result, to an extent, those of us who advocate decentralist socialism have got away with it for years without really having to put the flesh on the bones.  Plaid’s review has recommended doing some work on that – I look forward to seeing it, but suspect that it will be easier to recommend than to achieve.
I remember Phil Williams once saying that decentralised socialism is an oxymoron – socialism requires by its nature a strong central authority to ensure redistribution and fairness.  It doesn’t stop at European level either; how are we to achieve global fairness in access to the earth’s resources without strong global institutions?
That need for a strong central redistributive policy is really the reason for supporting the continuation of EU structural funding.  It doesn’t make the EU a socialist organisation; far from it.  But it’s hard to see how a fully decentralist model works to enable fairness without such supranational structures.  And that creates a dichotomy.
The question thrown at myself and others over the years – how can you argue for both devolution and the EU; you’re just swapping one remote central government for an even more remote one – is far from being an unfair one.  The answer depends less on what the institutions are than on what powers we cede to each of them.
The problem is that to get where I want to go, I wouldn’t really start from where we are, but if change isn’t going to be sudden and revolutionary, then it is going to be slow and evolutionary, based on where we are now.
In practice, support for devolution to and within a Wales which enjoys full membership of the EU is something of a compromise, and I recognise that.  But it’s a compromise which represents progress from where we are now.


Spirit of BME said...

There is no mystery why Plaid created “decentralised socialism” and how it came about – I was there.
In 1982 when Hydro Group lost the argument about limiting the kind of Wales we wanted to only a socialist state, this first Aim of the Party was changed by a vote in the Carmarthen conference. The second Aim called for a (very wisely) a decentralised state ,so the word socialism had to be implanted here in case anyone could argue that the Federal Government could be socialist, but local or State government need not be.
There was no great theory behind this just a consequence of a first vote and rather muddled thinking. The good Dr Phil had a much better definition for this term; he told me “it sounds a bit like non-alcoholic whiskey”

Unknown said...

Hi John, I was wondering if you could tell me who decides how many MEPs each "region" in the UK is given.

For example, Wales has 4. How and why is this number decided?

All full members have a minimum of 6, Latvia has 8 so I guess that is at least what we should have.

Unknown said...

I have to say that I find the term socialism rather less than useful in this context because of all the attendant baggage resulting from the soviet union and other far left adventures, and I also think that the terms left and right have ceased to have any real meaning in the modern world. So how do we describe what we want to achieve in Wales?

Leanne's renewal of the vision of a community of communities, where the state is an enabler of cooperative enterprises and re-generation through self-help does not need to be labelled socialist to be intuitively attractive to the people of Wales, where the idea of helping each other and shared community values run deep - whether it is in the industrial valleys or in the rural heartlands.

In a way, the light touch of the state in this scenario is quite a right wing idea, though the motives behind it are more left wing. So let's abandon the vocabulary of the outdated political dialectic, and create a new, uniquely Welsh, one.

John Dixon said...


See: Allocation within member states is basically a matter for those states, as I understand it. So Wales' allocation is decided by the UK government and is based on the size of Wales relative to the UK. As a member state, however, a country the size of Wales would receive a higher allocation.

Unknown said...

Ok thanks John, I thought as much. I'm going to do a Welsh version of this video.

It's quite telling to see that every "region" of the UK would have more MEPs. Except for one. England would have a similar population to Spain so it would have around 50 or so.

Owen said...

On "decentralised socialism" - I've never liked that term either. What I'd guess it means in general terms is mutualism. Individuals, communities or German-style work councils exercising more control compared to the top-down "traditional" socalist/social-democratic model of control from the centre. It's that old chestnut of "giving power back to the people" or "localism". It could even encompass "regional" devolution from Cardiff Bay (presumably post-independence).

On the EU - Ultimately it's a collection of sovereign, independent nation-states that have shared/ceded sovereignty voluntarily. That "voluntarily" bit is important particularly in a Welsh context and in the context of decentralism.

The "core" of Europe exerts a control and influence over the member states but as a civic institution it's still pretty weak as is European civic identity. It's a very loose confederation or even some new political entity that requires a new definition. The traditional nation-state is still king. For instance are pressures regarding the Euro crisis coming from the EU or are Germany and France using the EU as a conduit to exert their own pressure on the PIIGS?