We often talk about the EU’s democratic deficit as if it were a design flaw, an oversight by the founding fathers. In reality, it was their chief purpose. Monnet and Schuman knew that their project would never survive if it were regularly subjected to national electorates. That is why they vested supreme power in a civil service, insulated from public opinion. Their calculation was that, if people were simply presented with a fait accompli, they would go along with it.
Their strategy has been stunningly successful. Again and again, Brussels has extended its authority into a new area and then, years later, regularised the situation in a treaty. The Single European Act put a belated stamp on the EU’s intrusion into environmental policy. Maastricht formally recognised the common foreign policy, which had been launched unofficially in the mid-1980s. Amsterdam and Nice retrospectively authorised a great deal of harmonisation in the fields of criminal justice and immigration.