24, August, 2010
Ever wanted to know exactly what happens INSIDE the European Council? How did the President of France respond to the British Prime Minister or the German Chancellor’s suggestions? Do you want the griff on how the Maltese Prime Minister or the Luxembourg Prime Minister said that a discussion was totally unacceptable to the interests of his country? Wouldn’t it be revealing to know how leaders actually think they can share out public money and decide how it should be spent?
Imagine for you (as an individual, or as a group or company), your vital interests are at stake. They are now being affected in the policy workings of your country and the EU. Maybe you also are experiencing many cross-frontier and global complications and these subjects are on the agenda of the European Council. Wouldn’t you like to know how the topic was being discussed in the European Council?
If for example the industrial plant where you worked had been closed down in Ireland, and then you heard that the same multinational was receiving EU funds for opening up a similar plant in one of the central or east European States (with reduced payroll costs), would you not like to know how this sort of deal was being cut?
This involves jobs, livelihoods, public money and European policy. That is what European democracy should be all about. Schuman defined democracy as being at the service of people and working in agreement with it. Note agreement by the people, not just their so-called representatives. Do leaders act as Statesmen or do they think the EU is at the service of a cartel of political parties and their own careers?
Perhaps you are interested in knowing how governments can bring in a treaty while ignoring what the people say in referendums. Party machines are increasingly important. The Lisbon Treaty was forced through by parties rather than the free vote of Members of Parliament. They were whipped in line by party officials, sometimes without giving the parliamentarians a second even to read the treaty in full.
What are the leaders up to next? How do the heads of government react when the Commission proposes (now that it is composed exclusively of a cartel of paid-up members of their political parties) that European funding should be disbursed even more bountifully to political parties? For example, providing for more parliamentarians, giving them a bigger budget, larger staffs and naturally higher salaries. The EU has far more Presidents now than ever before. Of course the heads of government are also likely to benefit from this largesse, (it provides a retirement option). It will as well help their friends and buddies in their parties.
The public might want to know if those present at the European Council are behaving predominantly as party leaders or ethical champions. Are they honestly fighting potential corruption or leading it? Are they too party hacks, anxious to help themselves and the party first, their country second and the European common good a distant third?
This is no minor matter. We are not dealing here with pennies. This is not a parish council. We are dealing with potentially multi-million euro sums. Misuse of public funds by government leaders for party political purposes is no less criminal than the local Mafioso or landowner bending the rules in a village council.
Well, with the Lisbon Treaty a new situation arose. Instead of all meetings of heads of government being legally ‘informal’ and therefore secret, (as de Gaulle wanted it), they now have a sort-of legal status (if you consider the Lisbon Treaty to be legal).
All institutions have to publish the Minutes of their meetings. Minutes mean to a normal person a useful, succinct summary that covers all the important discussions and contentions. The Minutes have a role beyond that of the conclusions of their deliberations. They should reveal whether all the members of the institution are doing anything dubious behind closed doors. For example, if some members of an institution decided take funds to give themselves pay rises or do something illegal and one member objected, then the Minutes would reveal there was a dispute. The conclusions would only reveal whether the member who objected eventually fell in line –after threats and menaces — as happened under de Gaulle. Arm-twisting is not visible in the Conclusions.
The Lisbon Treaty made the European Council a new institution. So it has to produce Minutes in the same way as the local town council has to. That is a democratic norm. The European Parliament publishes a verbatim record of its debates. It publishes its criticism and proposed amendments to legislation. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions publish theirs.
The reason is simple. Democratic accountability. The people can judge afterwards who was right in their arguments, who was speaking perhaps covertly for special interests, who was being obstinately doctrinal or ideological, and who just had bad judgement. They can also see cartels of block party voting and very few individuals willing to state their opinions.
Now the European Council is legally obliged to publish its Minutes too. The first meeting of the new European Council under the Lisbon Treaty was on 10 and 11 December 2009.
I requested a copy of these Minutes. No reply. I wrote to the Ombudsman and then re-applied.
Six months later I learned that the Council had considered the matter. The documents, which had been declared of LIMITED or restricted circulation, would be opened to me, and the public. (Why are not all such documents from this so-called democratic institution not classified as PUBLIC? )
Now I have a copy of the Minutes to peruse at my leisure. Have I learned anything new? No. The minutes simply say that the European Council met, that it agreed to the Agenda, and that it issued a Conclusion/ communiqué (or not as the case may be).
Of course even the great Gaullist guardians of secrets cannot always control politicians sucombing to human frailties like being open from time to time. The underskirt of a couple of democratic items were exposed from under the Council’s voluminous skirts of secrecy. Or should I call it the Council’s burqa of blackout?
As an additional gem they added an Any Other Business item about a couple of letters, incidentally dealing with the changes to the Lisbon Treaty. But of course from behind the Council’s closed doors no detail of any debate about this essential matter of democracy escapes.
Consider this incongruity. The real Minutes would expose the nature of the Council. If they didn’t debate Lisbon Treaty changes, that would indicate a paucity of democratic debate and autocratic tendencies. Cartels do not have to debate. They fix money and supply questions. If they did debate the Lisbon Treaty amendments, why are the public not allowed to know about what they said? Why the democratic blackout?
For the enlightenment of all I enclose the substance of the Minutes.
1. Adoption of the agenda
The European Council adopted its agenda (document EUCO 4/09).
2. Approval of the conclusions
The European Council approved its conclusions (document EUCO 6/09).
Further to the submission by the Spanish Government of a proposal for the amendment of the Treaties as regards transitional measures concerning the composition of the European Parliament, the European Council approved the draft letters to be addressed to the President of the European Parliament and to the President of the European Commission respectively (document EUCO 2/09 + COR 1).
This farce arises because of a conflict of interests, democratic and anti-democratic. The framework of the European Community system is a legal system, based on democratic principles. That means that the people should know what the European institutions are up to. The founding fathers insisted that people have a legal right to have the opinion of the Council on record. Non-democratic leaders over the past years since the inception of the Community sixty years ago want to hide their deals and prevent democratic accountability. They want to play the national champion and hide European reality from their voters.
Like the Gaullist, Francoist, Salazarian or Greek military autocrats, — or the People’s Democracies of Soviet-controlled Europe — the present government leaders and ministers still seek to reduce their legal, democratic obligations to a minimum. The Party knows best Today it is the Party Cartel who wants you to think it knows best. In the above Minutes you have what the Cartel presents as the minimum information requirement that they think they can get away with.
As it happens, these documents showed that the government leaders have not succeeded in smothering all discussion in their minimalist Minutes. A newcomer made a request that according to the Gaullist burqa rules should not be in the Minutes. It reveals a little bit of a real discussion, even an inkling of democratic debate. It was from someone who was naively used to the democratic use of Minutes as a public record, not a means of obfuscation.
Ad item 4 on the agenda
Statement by M. Lawrence Gonzi – Prime Minister of Malta on the Stockholm Programme recalling the declaration tabled by Malta at the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 30 November 2009.
I would like to make a couple of comments about the Stockholm Programme. The Presidency is to be congratulated for getting unanimous agreement on the text. This does not mean to say that we do not have concerns about the implementation of some of its provisions, especially those relating to new obligations in the immigration area. Malta made a declaration on the matter at the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 30 November 2009, and I would like to recall and reaffirm this declaration while requesting that this statement I am making today be entered in the minutes of this European Council in accordance with Article 8 of the Rules of Procedure. It is therefore particularly important for us that the text is not re-opened.”
It is democratic buffoonery to add one or two isolated items of a debate, while leaving out the context, debate and response. Either these are normal Minutes or they are not. If not, the Burqanistas of the Council should tell the Maltese Prime Minister that he should shut up, he should not think that these are Minutes like those of the Cricket Club and, above all, this European Council is not a democratic institution.
The Council should come clean and say: ‘Rules of Cricket, nor those of the Minutes of commercial companies, any other councils or any other free association of free Europeans don’t apply democratically to us.‘ They should then publish the Lisbon rules.
Have the ‘democratic’ leaders taken their democratic responsibilities seriously? Obviously not. And to the world at large as well as the European public, the new European Council of the Lisbon Treaty is becoming the worst example of undemocratic practice.
It is doubly a farce because the officials at the Council offices and also government officials have need to know what the European government leaders have actually said. The unofficial minutes are therefore circulated among these officials. They are also made available or ‘leaked’ to journalists and others. However they are not available to the general public. WHY NOT? They are usually recorded by a public official whose salary is paid for out of public taxes. It is triply farcical as Schuman said the Council (like the Parliament and Committees) should be open and supervised by public opinion.
In the Community system the Council of Ministers is just one of the five democratic institutions — all have to respect the rules of supranational democracy.
The Council still thinks it is above this law. Imagine if we had such a record of the debates in Parliament or the Consultative Committees. They would say the Institution met, it approved the agenda, and it issued a communiqué. What sort of democratic accountability is that?
As Schuman wrote, European democracy also involves the elimination of those things that are obviously anti-democratic. Democratic and ethical standards should be set by leaders. Unfortunately it usually comes about after public demonstrations, revolution, Court cases and open rebellions, following the persistent abuse of governments.
It is high time that the leaders of 27 democracies consider the loss they are creating to European prestige, values and standing in the world:
Your idea of European democracy would be a disgrace to a local tennis club.