The Bane of Rapacious Elites

An ill wind of populism is blowing. To a large extent it originated in Europe (Front National, UKIP) and its effects are not only the death of truth but also more abuse of power, more corruption. Elites of all kinds have seen how tolerant society can be of abuse and have been quick to follow suit. The rule of law is increasingly under threat. 

The spread of corruption in Europe is worrying. Particularly in wealthy societies there is no excuse. The murder of crusading anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta is a stark reminder of elite remorselessness, and a reminder of the inability of national systems to deal with abuse by national elites.

 One of the most effective ways of bringing local elites to heel is to rely on non-local enforcement. Both in the Roman and the Habsburg empires the downtrodden would often appeal to the imperial centre when their rights were violated by local elites. The demise of feudalism was to a large extent a result of kings being able to tap local discontent against feudal masters. 

What the European Union can learn from history is that the Brussels institutions must protect the weak against local elites – and must be seen to do so. Both the Commission and the European Parliament do good things but were so far unable to connect with local populations to show them that the European project is really for them. In terms of the fight against corruption what the European Union should do is to create a dedicated anti-corruption tribunal under the aegis of the Court of Justice of the European Union. This anti-corruption tribunal should have as its mandate to prosecute corruption crimes if a European level prosecutor would deem that national courts were failing in specific instances. A system of subsidiarity similar to that of the International Criminal Court. 

The creation of such a tribunal would obviously not be supported by national governments, and hence it is for us, the citizens, to put pressure on the European Parliament and the Commission to give birth to a tribunal that would allow us to bypass local elite institutions when local elite interests try to brush away the rule of law.