Hiving upwards, devolving downwards

In “Why global governance is making the EU irrelevant” in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker makes a case which is only partially true. Apparently the EU is taking credit for abolishing roaming charges in the EU — which can be as much as 38p (50 cents) a minute — when, in fact, the EU is now following the rest of the world.

The decision has been due to a gathering weight of opinion form from a series of international organisations such as the International Telephone Users Group (INTUG), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and finally the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Therefore, Booker maintains, the EU ought to get real about the way the world is governed. He’s implying that the larger an organisation the more powerful it is.

Christopher Booker is confusing size with power. Size is only one factor. A much more important one is expertise within a small repertoire of objectives. An international organisation that gathers together expertise about its own special interest from like-minded groups in different countries can become very influential in due course and individual governments will often fall into line sooner or later.

A large or international organisation with too many and too general objectives is nowhere near as influential, and thus less powerful, compared with those with a few, more specific interests.  For example, the United Nations Organisation, the same as its forerunner, the League of Nations, has fallen down miserably in its main task of keeping peace and moderating extreme national behaviour all round the world, yet its score or so specialised agencies, such as FAO, UNESCO and WHO can effectively take the lead over individual governments when necessary.

In these modern times of increasing complexity when nation-state governments are endeavouring to control too much, the hiving off of many decisions upwards to specialised international bodies is inevitable. The Brussels bureaucrats are not naive. They’ll be fully aware of this.

But many nation-states may also have to devolve power downwards to smaller entities in order to solve rather more basic, humane problems, such as welfare, crime, community satisfactions and levels of job satisfaction in an increasingly automated age. In these respects, the EU commissioners are no more alive to them than other over-large organisations such as China, India and America which, in due course, will probably turn out to be just as ungovernable and fragile as the EU is now showing itself to be.

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