Commission Debate 8: When France said NON to Ireland, democracy, and a European energy policy — a WARNING today about political oligarchy!
14, May, 2009
In October 1957 the Council of Ministers asked the High Authority to prepare a general Energy policy for Europe. Why? because Europe was becoming more and more dependent on Middle East oil and this was a highly unstable area. The High Authority was equivalent of today’s Commission in Europe’s founding and pioneering European Community for Coal and Steel. This far-sighted intiative foundered by events a few months later.
General Charles de Gaulle seized power in France. He authorized his loyal aide, Alain Peyrefitte, to draw up a plan to “de-activate” and “chloroform” the three European Communities.
Don’t be deceived by modern rewriting of history that makes out that de Gaulle was some sort of European democrat. De Gaulle quickly showed what type of Europe he wanted. He vetoed the candidature of Great Britain and with it Ireland, Norway and Denmark, not once but twice.
Did he discuss this policy in the French Parliament before he did it? Not at all. De Gaulle just said NON. There was no public discussion, never mind a referendum in France to see if the French people wanted their European neighbours and allies to join. Of course not. This was possibly French people’s most important decision on their future. In fact the Council of Ministers had previously already agreed on Ireland’s adhesion. That did not matter at all.
What is even more astounding was that de Gaulle did not even tell his ministers he was going to make what was one of France’s most important policy decisions! How did he go about this act of saying NO? Well he just said so in a press conference! For the second veto he at least advanced this to a speech.
Was General de Gaulle against the expansion of the European Communities? Apparently not. In spite of his personal Diktat against the most democratic states in Europe, General de Gaulle made it clear in May 1964 that he would like to see Spain, then still under Generalissimo Franco’s dictatorship, inside the Community!
Europe should be grateful that the Community system, created by Schuman was resilient enough that this abuse of democracy did not happen. Europe is not a club for dictators. Good democrats like Joseph Luns in The Netherlands and many others in the small countries of Belgium and Luxembourg made it clear that this was not the Europe they expected. They resisted de Gaulle’s Fouchet Plan in 1961 which had as its main aim to sideline the Commission and turn it into a secretariat obedient to de Gaulle’s personal ‘centralizing‘ wishes. In short, France would be the controlling influence by taking over the Commission. It would no longer be impartial and independent of powerful politicians.
When in 1962 de Gaulle openly declared he was against this supranational form of democracy, the European ministers in his own government resigned. In 1965 he refused to send ‘his’ minister to the Council of Ministers. That boycott lasted until, after a few months, this empty chair policy began to look ridiculous. The other five showed that democratic solidarity was what Europeans expected. They refused all separate bilateral talks with France. The bully would not attack them one by one. However they were still rather lukewarm Europeans. None of the five other governments insisted that they should have direct elections to the European Parliament as required by the treaties, even if de Gaulle disdained such democracy. Mrs Thatcher, prime minister of the UK, also tried to boycott the European institutions, but it took her less time to realize she was looking ridiculous. It was also ineffectual and against British interests which needed arguments not brute force. The European Community is designed to resist the blackmail or bullying of the weak States by the big powers. Once the five supranational institutions are properly working it will be much easier to reach agreement on major initiatives using these common democratic rules.
What should be remembered is that in a democratic European Community TWO things are important: Nations have sovereign powers and cannot be overridden by other sovereign states ganging up against the small, the weak or the critical. Ireland for example should not be bullied by one or any of the other Member States. France was not bullied when its people voted Non. And it was quite unjust of some French politicians to say that Britain should be thrown out of the Community if its projected referendum (that did not happen) gave a negative vote for the Constitutional Treaty. On that basis, using the same criteria, France should already have left! Secondly the Community system has a deep, democratic consultation system of all interested groups and individuals. A Community is designed potentially as a pure democratic governance system for democratic Member States. De Gaulle abused the first power by saying: “La France, that means ME!” And he blocked all the potential consultation of civil society. They are still “chloroformed” today! Most political parties want them to stay fast asleep, because they will then have unfettered power.
Many other undemocratic acts were committed by governments who vaunted themselves for being democratic. Some personalities wanted to be considered the saviour of the Continent against such imaginary foes such as ‘Anglo-Saxons’. Curious term. This extremely dubious propaganda was a historical anachronism and related to a Celtic people who had been invaded by Romans two thousand years earlier then by Norwegian, Dutch and Danish Vikings and then about a thousand years ago conquered by French Normans! Even after Europe’s sad experience of Hitler’s propaganda machine, thousands of uncritical people took such obvious information distortions seriously in the 1960s. Thanks to the courage of other Members, the Commission did not irrevocably become the mouthpiece of Gaullist policies.
When this wave of dishonest nationalism faded out both in France and also in the dictatorships of Spain, Portugal and Greece, the European public began to take a more realistic view of the facts. They were allowed to, because the means of communication, radio and television and newspapers, were no longer the monopoly of the State machine. Propaganda came to be considered as ridiculous against neighbouring States as gossiping against neighbours across the fence. We all have to live together despite the distortions of tin-pot politicians.
But then Europeans are faced with another danger. Politicians and political parties tried to dominate all spheres of Community activity. They want to do in their own sphere of political oligarchy or a cartel what General de Gaulle tried to do in his. Maybe they were jealous. The original treaties were not written by politicians, but by people with deeper sources of wisdom. These early treaties created peace and prosperity unknown in recent times. They were based on democratic principles foreign to the party political disputes of recent centuries. Today’s party politicians show they are incapable of making such an altruistic governance structure. They put their own interests first.
What is new is that all these so-called “revised” treaties are too often written by politicians alone. That is extremely dangerous as the first interest they look out for is their own. And the last two objects of their desire, the Constitutional and Lisbon treaties, provide not only an opportunity but an open invitation to corruption. (See Commission Debates, numbers 2, 3 and 4). The politicians want to make the Commission an exclusive posting for politicians, while the original architects said this should never be the case.
One other thing that also has been conveniently ‘forgotten’ by the latest breed of Commissioners, relates to new treaties. Is it ethical, professional or right that Commissioners should be recommending and lobbying the citizens in favour of new treaties?
Let’s be clear. A new treaty is the business of governments and their citizens. It needs to be discussed and agreed by all interest groups, not just a house of party politicians, that is, parliament.
In the past, the Commissioners avoided commenting on new treaties. Frankly it’s not the Commission’s business until it has been passed democratically. Then the Commission becomes a guardian of the treaty and can defend it in line with natural justice and European values. Incidentally, the Commission’s job is to defend the previous treaties and common justice. It is not there to praise fellow-politicians and to lobby for them. It should criticize governments and politics that try to bring in measures contrary to the original democratic principles and natural justice. This the present Commission has signally failed to do.
It was not a Europe of Generals or Generalissimos. Nor is it a Europe of General Secretaries of political parties.