29, January, 2010
1. The lost lorry
How do you solve the following problem? A large lorry from a Member State of the EU arrives by ship at a port in Cyprus with goods for delivery. All the custom documents are in order according to EU legislation. Unfortunately the goods were intended for the Cypriot Greek south of the island and the lorry arrived in a port in the Cypriot Turkish north. The truck with a sealed TIR consignment was driven to the inter-communal border but was refused any passage across it.
This incident provoked a crisis between the Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities. Both communities discussed it at the highest level. It reached a logjam. A simple truck became high politics. So what happened? The truck returned to the port of Famagusta, it was loaded on a ship and was returned to the European Member State from whence it came. Later it was placed on another ship and sailed to a Greek Cypriot port.
Thus the importer was faced with massive extra costs. And who was responsible? We can judge for ourselves. The importer was under the impression that there was a European Single Market. Apparently the importer did not take the two community leaders to the European Court!
West Europeans today might denounce this sort of thing as kindergarten politics, however, before 1951 and the European Community, the same Europeans were skilled practitioners in this type of difficult, uncivilized and uncooperative behaviour.
Be encouraged! The States of the European Community – before it existed – faced far bigger problems. Even among supposedly friendly countries the complexity of the problem was horrific. In the north of Belgium the border between Belgium and the Netherlands is worse than a Swiss cheese. Not only are there exclaves of Belgium inside the Netherlands, there are even enclaves and exclaves inside these holes in the Swiss cheese. This was paradise for smugglers trying to escape controls of one national government against another.
And that was not the worst problem. Neighbouring countries had been at war with each other – and bred long family traditions of hate and distrust – for CENTURIES. Continental Europe had been turned into a slave society by the Master Race with mass murder as State policy of the Nazis, supported and paid for by major, global corporations. There were millions of displaced citizens. Yet within FIVE short years after the end of the most horrendous and hate-filled war in all European history the problem was solved! The Schuman Declaration was made 60 years ago. Have we learned the lesson?
How did the other Europeans solve this problem with the first common market? How did they solve the problem of centuries-long war? On the face of it, the lorry cargo problem is a small, purely technical question with economic implications. But such incidents become highly political. Bad politics lead to distrust and distrust leads to war. That was Europeans’ experience before Europe’s first Community, the European Coal and Steel Community. When in 1953 the first single market was created, it was at first purely in coal, iron and steel products. But it solved a major problem: war, hate and distrust.
Later the Community experiment proved so successful that the single market was created in other goods and services. (Customs Union and Euratom)
2. The process
The first lesson: start simply but decisively. This must lay the real basis for a developing Community interest. Thus one particular problem has to be solved at a time. Not all together. Choosing a Community solution will solve all outstanding problems based on the same principles of justice. In 1950 Europeans did not chose a ‘Package deal’ — which will all separately unwrap if not based on true principles — but a single supranational solution that grows organically to make the New Europe.
How would supranational principles avoid a political deadlock in the case of the lorry scandal?
First the small group of people should be created who were trusted by both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Such persons do not necessarily have to be Cypriots but they must have experience in Cypriot affairs. They must have the confidence of both parties for their impartiality. They should be able to speak with authority.
According to Europe’s first treaty, such a High Authority should be experienced and independent. Yes, that goes against the grain for politicians. But the treaty is insistent. These eminent people who constitute a ‘High Authority’ should ‘exercise their functions in full independence in the general interest of the community’. It says that ‘in accomplishing their duties, they shall neither solicit nor accept any instructions.’ From whom? Not from any government, not from any other body or organisation, political party, nor any individual. ‘They must refrain from any act incompatible with the supranational character of their functions.’
Supranational means that they have full delegated authority from the governments. Governments, political parties or any other interest will not interfere. Furthermore they should not be members of any interested body. They should resign from any body if they are members.
That is pretty clear. The High Authority acts like impartial judges so that it can come up with an impartial decision. (In later treaties the Authority is called the European Commission.) Like any honest brokers, conciliators or judges, their free will and free judgement must not be undermined. When Schuman was Minister of Justice he said that judges were responsible only to their own conscience.
Thus governments and political parties must exercise self-restraint. That may seem hard for parties and governments that wish to see they have a thumb in every issue. But if governments want sincerely to solve the problem, this is the way to go about it.
So we have a High Authority. It will only deal with one sector. Governments will not lose power. It will deal only with one issue agreed by both communities. In the case we are discussing it will deal only with the free movement of goods across the island and the access of all EU companies to both communities and to all Cypriots as purchasers and consumers, buyers and sellers.
3. How can Cypriots be sure the High Authority acts fairly?
This question was solved in the European Community by creating a body engaging organized civil society. It was called the Consultative Committee. It was a sort of parliamentary assembly – but only for associations, not individual electors, political parties or lobbies. It represented the overall interests of three sections of society: the producers, the consumers and the workers in the sectors in the treaty. The Committee is the specialist, technical agency for the Community. So if the system was to be applied to the fruit market, a third of the consultative committee would represent fruit producer associations (farmers) a third would represent fruit purchasers and eaters (who are concerned with quality and price) and a third would be composed of workers (so that if the price fell they would not be working on slave wages or have to submit to dangerous insecticides).
Ideally the Consultative Committee would be composed of a small number of independent Cyprus-wide associations. It could initially for a transition period be composed of existing associations. One of the first duties of the interim Committee would be to lay down impartial criteria for the definition of a Cyprus-wide association (its democratic and open basis in each section).
With such clear definitions in hand, any association could apply for recognition by the entire Cypriot community. Those associations that fulfilled the criteria would then become the electors for the new democratic body. They would be issued with one vote each, and elect a number of associations that corresponded with the predetermined size of the body. They would have to take into account that not all associations could be present in the Committee. Therefore their task would have to choose associations that were the most impartial and representative of the general interest. Those elected would also have to have excellent network contacts with the local and specialist interests. Why? Because if any question came up the Committee would be charged with finding out how all producers, consumers and workers would react to it. For example, it may relate to how costs should be defined both for city dwellers and for those who live in more inaccessible places. Armed with comprehensive data, they could debate the optimum solution, the best common approach to common problems.
The function of the High Authority would be to make decisions, recommendations or laws, relative to the issues it was designed to solve. The Authority would be in permanent dialogue with the Consultative Committee to see what the main issues were, what sort of solution was preferred and how, when and where to tackle it. The Authority could make decisions when there was an immediate problem like the European lorry that could not circulate across the island, or it could make more long-term proposals to create a healthier basis for trade.
To ensure that a good balance was made, and fair and just decisions are always available, three additional bodies are required to maintain the democratic rule of law. They would also provide the five-institution nucleus for a permanent democratic process in any other sector that needed to be added to ensure peace, justice and harmony.
For example, what happens to the interests of the individual in all this? The Community system installed a parliament with some special features, not always performed in our own parliaments. The parliament was to see that the bureaucracy did not get out of hand. It acted as a supervisor of the whole system. That meant it should review the decisions, recommendations and laws that the Authority had implemented. It should clean out the verbiage, make laws understandable and as simple as possible and should see to it that the overall effect was just and fair. A complex law or recommendation might have the right result but it would be far better if the man or woman in the street fully understood it and saw that it was so.
The parliament would have further special powers in that it could dismiss the Authority if it thought that some corruption of mismanagement was going on. It makes an annual review assessing the positive developments.
Would the existing governments be left out? Not at all. The equivalent of the Council of Ministers could be set up so that it could also give its input. In this example it would require the ministers of agriculture or trade to meet.
4. How it would work
In the system as original proposed by Robert Schuman the following would be the working scenario. The High Authority, in permanent dialogue with the Consultative Committee, (representing entrepreneurs, workers and consumers), would be appraised of the most urgent problems and strategic challenges. It would make a proposal for action: either a decision affecting one case, a general recommendation or a law. It would send the draft of this proposal to the Consultative Committee, the Council of Ministers (in this case a meeting of Turkish and Greek community ministers.) It would also go to the assembly of parliamentarians delegated for the purpose. Each of these three bodies, Consultative Committee, Ministers and parliamentarians need to discuss the proposal to see if it is fair for all. They can suggest amendments but they have to agree on them as a body. Each body would give its own Opinion. Thus the Committee would vote on their Opinion, the Ministers would agree what they thought best, and the parliamentarians would vote on what they thought could be improved in the proposal. It is up to the High Authority to accept and reject these opinions for amendments, as it sees best.
But what if the High Authority did something palpably unjust? Let us say, that the lorry owner, who was a foreigner and not a Cypriot, took the brunt as a scapegoat. He was asked to pay a fine because of the trouble he had caused. That is where the fifth body comes in. That is the Court of Justice. It is there as a last resort, because the other institutions should be able to solve all Cypriot problems. And if the special Court in Cyprus did not give him satisfaction, the lorry-owner could take the matter to the European Court. In fact, everyone in Cyprus, whether an individual or an association or a community could take the matter to Court. This right was written into the Treaty of Paris and subsequent treaties. There is no reason why Cypriots should not enjoy the right too.
To solve the problem of the wandering lorry, this five-institution system may seem complex. But it is not for a lost lorry that it would be created. It would be to make Cyprus the jewel of democracy and harmony and a full and active member of the Community system. The institutions would only involve a handful of people to ensure fairness for all.
5. How to start
What problem should Cypriots tackle first? The easiest or the most difficult? The essential feature of Schuman’s strategy was to build TRUST based on universal, that is, supranational values. Robert Schuman, the founder and initiator of the European Community system, called it a process of detoxification. Once he had established the Convention of Human Rights in the Council of Europe, he chose to start with a question of the most vital interest to all Europeans: war and peace. It was the most crucial issue for everything else, not the easiest one.
Furthermore the system works! No democratic system had a harder trial than stopping war that had persisted for centuries in Europe. Robert Schuman warned that the Community method was designed to prevent such a potential suicide and to make ‘war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.’ All the founding fathers who signed the Europe Declaration on 18 April 1951 agreed with him. So did the general public. Europeans are no living in the longest period of peace in more than two thousand years.
A supranational solution will have extremely positive repercussions for the island of Cyprus, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Mediterranean basin, all of Europe and for the entire planet. The challenge is now with the people of Cyprus. The world is waiting.democracy
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