Commission Debate 13: Should all citizens be able to stand and to choose Europe’s leader? The danger of the most photogenic
3, August, 2009
Although many politicians lust after the job, the choice of Commission President is far too important to be left to party politicians. They are scarcely qualified. The job description says that Commissioners — all of them — should be independent. Party politicians obviously aren’t independent as they are proposed by and are therefore the tools of party political machines. They are dependent on their party, unless they break all ties with the party well before they are candidate and demonstrate independence from party politics for ever afterwards. Politicians cannot expect different rules for themselves compared with all other citizens.
The system to date is that the President of the Commission is chosen in secret conclave by politicians in the Council of Ministers. Surprise, surprise! They inevitably choose a politician, although the treaty specifies nothing of the sort. Excluding 98 percent of citizens who are not politicians is no way to build trust with Europeans they are supposed to represent.
Politicians have lost public trust by the handful because of recent scandals. There were also a few scandals in the past too! And when it comes to referendums, the representatives of the people do not trust the people. The referendums are only accepted if they give a Yes.
That smells badly of decay and corruption. But only to non-politicians. Far too many politicians come with stink-insensitive noses and thick skins. Am I exaggerating the bad conduct of a few? Just consider how much salaries, privileges and expenses have increased. Many of the early parliamentarians and representatives worked part-time or only had travel expenses for their European work. How many of the present politicians want all the accounts to be published? The public will find that vast sums are siphoned into party machines. The European taxpayer has never been asked for his or her opinion on this.
Let’s turn to considering an open vote on all candidates for the Commission. Anyone can stand. Should then the choice of President be put to a popular vote of all Europeans? Doesn’t this seem the fairest system?
But consider if all 500 million people voted for this person, it is likely to have quite unforeseen results. Obviously with thirty odd countries, there is little chance of electing a candidate from one’s own country. Someone well known in one country could be unknown elsewhere. Nationalists are often popular — at home. Most nationalists would be disappointed in Europe, even frustrated. This category includes many politicians who know how to use the national card when their arguments at home are weak.
A successful nationalist or populist in one country is regarded as the person most to avoid next door. Why? — because the neighbouring country is usually the target of the abusive nationalistic invective. Populist politicians will simply not gather enough votes throughout Europe. And voters in general in one country may look down on the neighbouring country’s citizens, thinking of them as inferior. How could they put up with such a transparent political manipulator? The best thing, some people may think, would be to steer clear of anyone in the least political. Is this possible?
It is not very likely that governments dominated by parties would ever agree to a system where politicians were treated as suspect or second class candidates. But let’s dream. Maybe one day they would respect the treaties they signed. What would happen if candidates were to be largely non-party political? Who would be elected? Probably the most handsome or the most beautiful candidate! That assessment is based on political facts. One prime minister is alleged to have wanted to have a photographic array of beautiful girls as his party’s candidates for the European elections! Coming from one of Europe’s major States, this is an appalling example of political cynicism — and exploitation. Do Europeans want the main representatives in the Commission and Parliament to be handsome airheads, of questionable character, manipulated by powerful, hidden forces?
Who are Europe’s most popular non-politicians? Who have the greatest public exposure in Europe, filling untold column-inches of newspapers and time on TV and videos on the Internet? The people most well known across Europe are maybe footballers or film stars. On the basis of being best known, this is the category that might well get elected!
Here we come to another big problem. There is no indication that Europe’s most popular personalities have adequate background to deal with the complexity of 27 or more States, multiple languages and complex issues such as Climate Change and the Energy and financial crises. Without adequate character and experience, they would be the puppets of a bureaucracy. The most technically qualified and experienced potential candidates could well be the most unknown people in Europe.
It is not to denigrate the voters in the USA, but a photogenic appearance is often deemed the most important factor there, given the preponderance of video communications, TV, Internet and speech-writers. Honest Abe Lincoln, known for his character but not his Hollywood looks, would have little chance today! People would say he looked suspect! A slick, photogenic fraudster with a powerful public relations machine would have greater chance of success.
But isn’t communication important too? Clearly. Let us assume we have a good-looking candidate that has mastered most of the European languages, would this be an ideal candidate? No. In fact it could be highly dangerous. An orator, perhaps with little government experience, who hypnotizes the electorate with emotive words like change, transparency and hope, but little substance, could lead the population fast in a wrong direction. We should be very cautious about silver-tongued orators without understanding, adequate experience or character.
What about a good-looking orator who has what appears good linguistic and communication skills and a powerful agenda about how to solve Europe’s problems? It may be someone with their own wealth and therefore, many may think, a person of complete independence.
This is extra dangerous. Because someone has money does not mean that they do not want more! Just speak to the guys who got burnt in the crisis of Wall Street and the City of London! Bonuses of millions were not enough for them. The big danger of people who come with ready solutions is that they may be well paid by a special interest group, a cartel or foreign money. Top politicians often work for such groups. The president-candidate could be a front person to make sure that a company or group, even foreign interests, got special treatment. The ready, and apparently plausible solution that they bring may have originated from the same biased or foreign source bent on domination. The gloss of presentation and silver oratory may be all public relations. The more silver the tongue may indicate the more dangerous the trap.
What is needed is someone who is impartial and will listen to all the minority groups that are affected by any European legislation. And by listening, that means taking them seriously, as the livelihood of poor people may be seriously affected. That’s why humility is a requirement.
So how can Europeans begin to choose such a person among the teaming millions of our citizenry? We will explore this question further next time.David Heilbron Price
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