Commission Debate 11: Council Presidency admits: ‘We’ve made a U-turn’ on European principles of democracy
30, June, 2009
A Council protocol will aim to completely reverse the basic rule of European democracy defended passionately and with courage over decades by such European democrats as Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Joseph Luns. Many Commissioners in the past also fought an unequal battle to maintain democratic values against the return to raw, bare-knuckle, power politics. The irony is that this attempted annihilation of democracy is being formulated by politicians who sit in buildings named after these founding fathers.
One of the biggest battles for European democracy took place in the early 1960s. Charles de Gaulle tried his utmost to destroy the fledgling Community system. How? By turning the Commission into a secretariat. His vision for Europe’s future was firmly planted in the nineteenth century. His idea of France was one where France played the great role in Europe and the little powers did little or shut up completely. He tried bombast. This didn’t work. Then he came up with the seduction of the Fouchet Plan, which he wrote in part himself.
De Gaulle’s plan was full of subtlety and deceit. Guess what? It especially attacked the Commission so that it would no longer be independent of governments. He tried smoke and mirrors. It took wise and obstinate politicians to oppose him. Among those governmental leaders who saw through his trickery were Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium and Joseph Luns of The Netherlands. Once his deceitful plan for hegemony was exposed, de Gaulle dropped it like a hot brick. His next trick was the blackmail of the empty chair when he hoped the absence of a French ministers would paralyze the Community. It did not.
De Gaulle’s anti-democratic seduction of the Fouchet Plan took the form of offering to the five other Community States the mirage of a ‘political union’. What a prize! What a lie! The Secretariat he offered would of course have representatives of the other five member States. That would not make a great difference. It meant that the other States would meekly follow France’s lead in all its foreign policy. The secretariat would then control the European Communities. After the War Germany was in no moral position to offer leadership and the others were physically smaller. In the darkened corridors of power politics, their arms could easily be twisted. The so-called political union would control the three European Communities and make sure that no independent voice could oppose the glory of France — as de Gaulle saw it.
He also meant excluding all other States that wanted to join the Community. He considered them too democratic. He did not succeed in the first idea of imposing French nationalistic hegemony. But he succeeded in excluding, with dictatorial imperiousness, six States from a united Europe: the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus. They were all in the process of joining the Communities. Not that these were perfect democracies. Britain had tried a trick, similar to de Gaulle’s, a decade earlier. This confidence trick was exposed and punctured by Schuman and Monnet.
Thus de Gaulle’s meddling set back the move to direct democracy in Europe by several decades. We are still waiting for Norway. He also seems to have thrown dust into the eyes of modern politicians. They need to decide: do they want to be known as democrats or new victims of history and political naivety?
The Council protocol – which has not yet been ratified by parliaments or the people of Europe – says that the Commission should be composed of national representatives of the Members States. This is precisely what de Gaulle proposed. He called them officials. Once you introduce ‘representatives’ you are back to the nineteenth century. The founding fathers decided to avoid and exclude a dog fight at the centre of the New Europe. With some courage they said that each Commissioner should not be chosen for compliance and boot-licking subservience to national goals only. The High Authority would show moral backbone and have the impartiality of a college of impartial judges, whose main purpose was offer realistic proposals for the common good. The proposal could be criticized by everyone. Then the people would decide Yes or No.
What the founding fathers required was ‘experienced, independent’ personalities who were capable of seeking out the European common good. This would lay the foundation for twenty-first century direct democracy, unshackled from shifty representatives who betray their electorates. More than sixty years ago Schuman explained before the United Nations, why Europe must be democratic and supranational.
Did the European Union, did France, did the 27 Member States united in peace, celebrate this 60th anniversary of Schuman’s vision for a united Europe before the United Nations? Did the other nations of the world celebrate that Europe had not instigated another world war, devastating the globe? As Schuman foretold that same year such a war would have had the nature of world suicide. Did any European institution remember it? Did Germany lay on festivities? In 1948 and 1949 it was still an international pariah after the Nazi atrocities. The Community brought them into a Europe of reconciliation. The victims and victors of WW2 gave them equality.
SHAME ON THEM ALL!
Instead our leaders falsify history as much as they falsify democracy. Will they also pass over the sixtieth anniversary of the Schuman Declaration on 9 May 2010 in embarrassed silence? Embarrassed, because they have distorted, deactivated, chloroformed, postponed, rescinded and trampled on the democratic principles that he announced.
There is a big difference between de Gaulle’s idea and Schuman supranational and democratic vision. Representatives of States — even if they are loyal to their State and even somewhat honest — will fight like wild cats in a bag. Independent, experienced Commissioners, however, will fight economic and political cartels and nationalism from whatever State it comes from, even their own. Europe should not change its still undeveloped, supranational democratic system for a chimera, that will turn round and bite them. There is no such thing as equal national representatives. No system of nationalists exists where bias or extra weighting is not grasped by one powerful or deceitful nation to the disadvantage of the others. Big States always demand that their ‘representatives‘ are not equal to others. The casualties of this thinking are supranational values: justice, fairness, honesty and open politics. A Community system will build them up.
The big States should not bully the small or weak. Spaak, Luns and Schuman proposed that the Commissioners should be the most impartial people that fitted the job specifications. They should be honest brokers for the common European good.
When asked about this neo-Gaullist plan, ministers of the Swedish presidency admitted: ‘We have just made a U-turn’ on this fundamental democratic principle of the founding fathers. What was their excuse for the betrayal? We did it for Ireland, they said. Tell me another. Giving Ireland its Commissioner, because voters in a referendum clearly said No, is a corrupt bribe, not democracy. The Irish did not in fact ask for a Commissioner. They asked for more open democracy which is not the same thing. The present treaties –which leave much to desire — were better than the opaque, unreadable and democratically incoherent Lisbon Treaty. So they voted to keep the bad bargain they had already, rather than accept an even worse one.
They were not alone. One Commissioner recently said that 95 per cent of States, if freely asked, would probably reject the Lisbon Treaty, and all politicians know that. Arithmetically that translates as 26 out of 27 States (96.3%). All Member States would say No, except Ireland (which has already voted No). These same politicians are forcing Ireland to vote again, because its vote cannot be abolished. So if political bribe is not the correct description, how about a sugar-coated poison for European democracy administered only to those showing any signs of life?
Offering a bribe to voters is one thing. What the Council then did was quite another. Theft. They all said we want a Commissioner, and took one. Why? None of their voters demanded it. The 26 other States were not asked in a referendum. The party politicians did not have to convince national voters in 26 other referendums to be held later this year.
They wrote no report about the correct functioning of the Commission analyzing why it should be changed. They did not even ask why Europe has a Commission, and no other system in the world has supranational governance. Or why Europe has peace and there is widespread war elsewhere. Their selfish grasping for a Commissioner each was more like all of them stealing from the helpless figure, lying mugged and knocked out in the gutter. They stole from Democracy what they could, while they could.
My impression was that the Swedes admitted this U-turn not out of joy or sadness but out of surprise, naivety and ignorance about how Europe’s first direct democracy was supposed to develop.
Ignorance is no excuse for stealing from Europe’s wounded democracy. Theft is still theft, even if everyone is doing it. If the others, like for example, Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Sweden and Ireland, who agreed to this shabby protocol, think they can manage the bullies of history, it is worse than the man on his twelfth marriage. It is irrealistic naivety against two thousand years of sorrowful experience.Author : David Heilbron Price
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