17, February, 2009
America has had its presidential election. Where is Europe’s democracy? Who should be the leader of the economic Super-Power on this side of the Atlantic? Where and how can European voters find the most suitable person to help organize a Community of some 500 million people and the world’s largest trading power?
On 15 April 2008, when governments of the EU eventually published the proposed Lisbon Treaty still in provisional form, a dozen parliaments had already ratified it. Isn’t it unusual, even bad form, to ratify something you haven’t seen? Would you buy a used car without seeing the engine — or more importantly — finding if the brakes work? Would you buy an insurance policy or a parachute without knowing the contents? Why are politicians in such a rush?
It’s a presidential race. But nothing like USA. The EU, a world super-power, even larger economically and commercially than the USA, has no presidential elections. Not even for the new-fangled, 2½-year presidency of the European Council, the body where heads of governments decide EU policy in secret.
The big difference between the United States and Europe is that the new treaty will provide enough presidents for a football team. There will be presidents for the European Council, another for the Council of Ministers, presidents for the Parliament, a president for the Economic and Social Committee, and a president for the Committee of Regions. There will be untold presidents for the secret committees like the Monetary Committee, Council and the Coreper committees. And that is not to mention the innumerable Agencies, sometimes a law unto themselves.
But with all this football team for the boys and girls of the political parties to splash mud, it will not kick off the first Europe-wide elections specified in all treaties back to 1951. Has no one read the treaties? Does anyone understand the founding principles of European democracy? Instead the so-called ‘reform’ politically stitches up the referee in the most brazen and unscrupulous denial of democracy in modern times.
Governments keep silent about one president — that of the European Commission. It is Europe’s most essential post. More than just the referee, the Commission, and only the Commission, can make a proposal for legislation. The Commission is like the person who cuts the cake into fair and equal slices, before the greedy children, the governments, chose portions. It proposes policies for the common good of 27 democracies. Competence and impartiality are indispensable. The Commission can do far more than cut cakes fairly. It can propose how, when and where all Member States, working together in democratic harmony, can bake a new cake of common policy together. When States know they can trust each other, they can accomplish positive things beyond their previous, limited, nationalistic vision. They can help each other and the world beyond, now in sore need of peace.
Does the system work? You bet! The founding Coal and Steel Community of 1951 ended Europe’s incessant wars and dismantled greedy and dangerous cartels. Drawing inspiration from moral philosophy, not yah-booh politics, the Commission must exude fairness and honesty in a Europe of values.
In short, the President of the Commission had to be chosen by several characteristics that some politicians do not wish to examine: namely, and above all, independence. That means an honest character, who is not attached to any commercial, governmental or POLITICAL grouping. He or she should have the requisite experience and, as the treaties imply, humility!
The founding fathers, like Robert Schuman, designed this democratic high authority to strengthen member state democracies. They insisted that the Commission be totally independent of governments. How? Firstly, governments had to chose the president unanimously. Unanimity guarantees some impartiality as any country can veto a dishonest candidate. Big states vetoed each other’s biased and self-serving nominees. The Commission had to build trust between States. That’s why it has to be independent, impartial and experienced. Quite often, good Europeans to act as President could only be found in smaller countries.
Today, politicians think they know better. Their contribution is usually to throw sand into a delicately working motor of democracy that still has to build up democratic speed. Under the proposed Lisbon Treaty, this impartial Commission ends. Politicians want to restrict the candidates to a tiny group of politicians like themselves. Then this president of Europe would be chosen in secret with votes weighted in favour of the big States, the bullies of history.
Early Commission presidents were often former civil servants, lawyers, professors or diplomats. They were NOT party politicians. If they had had political or governmental experience, they gave up party activities. Their records were scrutinized to see if they remained honest under pressure. However, when de Gaulle seized power in France in 1957, he declared at first a covert then an open war. He attempted to ‘chloroform’ the democracy required of governments and pledged in the treaties. Inserting his partisan nominees into institutions, he attempted to gain personal control of the three European Communities. Commission presidents Walter Hallstein, a former law professor who as a captured soldier had the courage to teach fellow German prisoners of war about the rule of law, Étienne Hirsch, a brilliant engineer who had lost much of his family to Hitler’s depravity, and Paul Finet, a metallurgist/ trade-unionist, stood up against these undemocratic assaults. These great European democrats were NOT party politicians!
Did the democratic governments learn a lesson? The party politicians REFUSED to implement the basic democratic requirements, such as direct elections to Parliament under a single electoral statute. These were written into every treaty from Europe’s founding Treaty of Paris in 1951, the two treaties of Rome of 1957, the Adhesion treaties, the Amsterdam, Maastricht and the present Nice Treaties. Whatever may be said of ‘democratic politicians’ at home, they are as slow as treacle in Antarctica when it comes to European democracy!
After de Gaulle, democracies half-heartedly reviewed treaty obligations. Direct elections to the European Parliament, required for about 30 years, were only implemented in 1979. (Schuman initiated Europe’s first parliament in 1949.) And then the governments refused to do it according to the fair, democratic rules that the treaties specified. Each government wrote its own electoral rules. These distort the outcome of the elections in the interests of big parties and the benefits the party political elites. It deprives the average citizen of a fair vote. How do we know this bias is intentional? Well, firstly the systems are all different. Yet the dominant national parties like them: many small parties and individuals don’t. What does that tell you? Secondly, if the distorted system did not please and delight the national politicians in their unethical objectives, they would have changed it long ago to something fairer, more just, more legal and more democratic. They would have examined the treaties they signed and implemented the fair rules of a single electoral statute, agreed by all.
The main governmental parties still refuse to initiate major democratic pledges in the treaties. Some institutions are still disempowered. The chambers of the Consulative Committees are filled with ‘representatives’ – not of the European civil society as the treaties say, but ‘representatives’ for politicians and parties! Special governmental (=politicians’) committees deny civil institutions and NGOs the political powers, some of which should be equivalent to the secretive Council of Ministers. We have only to investigate agriculture, an area essential for Mr de Gaulle’s political support. Much of the public funding to big farmers was until recently shrouded in secrecy, as if it were military security!
Today, who raises an eyebrow that the Commission is stuffed with national politicians? Some proudly boast their party affiliations, in complete defiance to the treaties! Does this profession of ‘party politician’ have the only wise people with adequate qualifications to be members of the European Commission? Are there no wise democratic people who can be candidates among the 480 million independent citizens who decline the offer of party membership? Do the fair-minded have to become ideologically biased by joining a party? What nonsense and lack of logic!
The proposed Lisbon Treaty goes much further towards an authoritarian oligarchy than Mr. de Gaulle ever dreamed of. It enforces bad practice by law. Anyone who is not a card-carrying member of a political party is outlawed. Jean Monnet was the first president of the Commission, then called the High Authority. Today he would be banned. He was never a member of a political party. Many people today have the same sentiment as Monnet. They want to be independent and non-political. Many don’t trust politicians. They see them as too often motivated by out-moded ideologies. Some are suspected of sharp or even corrupt practice.
Yet politicians say only they should be eligible to lead the Commission and hence Europe. And to prove they are right, politicians voted themseves a personal power grab — and in nearly all States ONLY the politicians were allowed to vote on this, the most important decision for all European citizens. The representatives of the people voted to EXCLUDE the people.
It is a momentous decision made exclusively by a political elite who claim to represent the people! It marks the start of party political oligarchy, not democracy. The proposed Lisbon Treaty ‘reform’ makes it impossible for the Commission President to remain impartial, ever again.
(To be continued.)David Heilbron Price
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