Commission Debate 15: Cartels, political and commercial: Who stifles the voice of the people and counsels the Council on dirty tricks?
22, September, 2009
As the only institution allowed to propose European legislation, the European Commission represents the general interest of the whole Community. As an independent, impartial, honest broker, it represents all the people, all the organisations of civil society involved and all the governments forming part of the European Community. That’s what the founding fathers wrote as its function (see article 9 paragraph 5 of Europe’s founding treaty).
Dirty tricks are the disreputable side of politics compared with honest broking. Politicians for their own reasons like to confuse matters. They like to use the term European Union. They imply that the EU is the equivalent of the USA. But no one can sign a legal document in the name of the European Union. Only the European Communities have legal personality. There are two of them in existence and one with continued judicial, political, economic, social and moral posterity. That is why the Court is called the Court of Justice of the European Communities. It is not called the EU Court of Justice. The public have great need for a fair European rule of law.
Does the Council play dirty tricks on the public? It promised, and the Commission insisted on, an open public debate and full support of the public for any new treaty. What happened? On the Lisbon Treaty, the Council decided to sow the maximum amount of confusion. It gagged public debate and forbad voters from voting. The earlier, practically identical Constitutional Treaty was rejected by founder Member States, France and the Netherlands (and would have been by other States given the chance). The Council then attempted a scandalous and dishonest trick. They cut up the Treaty into incomprehensible pieces, wrote it out as an incoherent list of amendments, and told the States they had to pass this monstrosity by forcing it through their parliaments using their party machines to impose discipline and stifle free votes. No referendums were to be allowed, even if it required changes to the national Constitutions. (This proved too outrageous and too difficult in Ireland but not in the former great democracies of France, Netherlands and Denmark.)
The treaty will make major changes to the position of the Commission, rendering it an ideological, biased and politicised body. No explanation or debate on this was forthcoming. The Commission will no longer represent all Europeans. It will be factional and combative political instrument against parts of society. The Lisbon Treaty is designed to recreate the hypocritical political theatre (that gives politicians publicity) as in the worst of Europe’s parliaments.
Realistic, deep debate is part of the supranational democratic system, not hollow hystrionics (and thousands of secret committees). The founding fathers considered the Commission a key institution in European democracy. They insisted it should be totally independent of all interests groups, whether financial, social, economic, political or otherwise.
Given the centrality of the European Commission in the European democratic system, who should choose the members of the European Commission? The founding treaties are clear. The Commission should be elected on a mixed system with checks and balances. Some members are nominated by the democratic governments (with a means to stop power politics) and others are nominated by an independent system. Why have two systems with safeguards? That is simply to ensure that governments do not abuse their democratic powers and start nominating their buddies, friends and excluding other citizens. That would be political nepotism. Schuman wanted to rule out the domination of the weak by the strong and powerful. The founders had good reasons. They included two world wars.
Would democratic governments — composed of party politicians — ever abuse their powers? The answer unfortunately is Yes and how! It would be foolish for democrats – that is those who want honest government – to trust too much in politicians. One has only to look at the present, rancorous Court case in France about dirty tricks involving whom? Not less than the President of the French Republic and a former Prime Minister. Such politicians and those caught with their hands in the public purse are the ones that came up with the Lisbon Treaty, a grubby deceit for a pig-in-a-poke already rejected by the public who put money into the purse.
Who gains from all these tricks? Some politicians may be honourable. The record of Europe shows we have a major problem. Power tends to corrupt. European power can corrupt more as bigger money is involved. Council of Ministers’ powers were distorted for decades as Gaullists used power corruptly to bribe French agricultural voters to vote Gaullist. Other Europeans acquiesced as they wanted to keep de Gaulle quiet from destroying everything in the Community. The corrupted Council paid for grain and meat mountains and wine lakes out of European taxpayers’ subsidies that the taxpaying consumers did not ask for.
To the dismay of true European democrats, the Council of dishonourable politicians has made the reputation of Brussels stink to high heaven. Blackmail does not pay. It has taken decades of recent effort to try to reverse this bribery. Farmers are suffering withdrawal symptoms as the subsidies are cut. They must now build a real green Community as envisaged by Schuman and Pierre Pflimlin in early 1951.
We have seen in previous Debate commentaries here that:
·Ministers do not act like democrats: they ‘fix’ the election of the Commission president;
·They have openly abandon original democratic principles without asking the voters;
·They have abandoned the principle of excluding national representatives in Commission;
·They created a counterfeit democracy;
·They have refused for more than half a century to have a single statute or voting system for European Parliament elections;
·They cheat in parliamentary elections;
·They perverted the honourable office of Commissioner that originally excluded job transfer to an even richer paying job: it became a money-making scam;
·They weakened Europe’s anti-cartel system so that it would encourage cartels to finance/ bribe political parties;
·They expose Europe to global dangers in energy security, climate change and global disease pandemics and wars;
·They encourage corruption by restricting the office of Commission President to a political functionary impossible to sack even for the grossest corruption.
So will the Lisbon Treaty improve matters? A self-serving charter largely written by politicians is unlikely to improve the drift to a party oligarchy. That puts all power in the hands of a small political cabal, in other words a political cartel. This sleazy slide to undemocracy dates from de Gaulle’s time. He was very keen on secret deals.
As an illustration to analyse the dangerous situation that Europe has arrived at, look at the situation in Ireland. The political parties are losing public support and donations have fallen by more than 30 per cent over the last year. The Irish Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) revealed the following figures. The political parties received some 140,000 euros in 2007 but only 96,523 euros in 2008. That indicates the declining trust of the public in the political party machines of all colours.
This does not mean that salaries for politicians have declined. On the contrary a new source of money for political parties is flowing from Brussels. It funds all sorts of activities, without ever having been agreed by the citizen taxpayers. Politicians propose and agree extra funding for parties in a closed undemocratic circle typical of a cartel. This funding, milked without consent from the citizen, has become essential for the survival of some political parties.
It is a mistake to identify democracy with party political machines. They arrived comparatively recently in history. Democracy dates from well before any political party existed. Democracy will exist after political parties have disappeared. Loyalty to party has too often become a hollow substitute for moral values. Careerists expect salaries multiple times the average citizen’s and a quick means to become very rich. Democracy relates as Schuman said to action in the service of the people and acting in agreement with the people. (Pour l’Europe, page 55).
The problem today is that political parties and party machines control most of the levers of power in modern industrialized societies. They do not act with the agreement of the people but against them, for example when referendums say No in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and others are refused because they would also say NO too. Tax and budgets are too often their principal concerns. The parties are however a shell of what they were. And it is not only me who is saying this.
Consider two major multinational firms that are also based in Ireland. Both of them ran hard up against the European Community’s anti-cartel rules. One was refused to complete a merger operation because it would create a monopoly or position of economic dominance in its sector. Another was fined more than a billion euros. Yes one billion euros. 1000,000,000 euros.
Would you expect such firms to be enthusiastic about the Lisbon Treaty? Would they be more enthusiastic than the local corner shop, or local firm, the one that never got a fine from the European Commission?
So who is funding the YES vote for the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty that the Irish people have already rejected? Well, yes. These two multinationals are putting in huge amounts of money. One says it will put in half a million. The other says his firm will contribute ‘a few hundred thousand euros’. Such imprecision makes it sound like pocket change. This is likely to bring the total of the two firms to around a million. Not bad for multinationals who were told they were bad boys by the European anti-cartel authority. I should add that the billion euro fine is presently under appeal. Is this a relevant part of the calculation?
In the first Irish referendum — which was not good enough for politicians — one businessman put up 200,000 euros for the No camp but as a loan, SIPO said. Even that loan is a couple of times the size of ordinary people’s political contributions. The two firms urging a YES to the Lisbon Treaty are thus creating for the referendum campaign a giant shadow perhaps ten times the size of all Irish political donations.
Does this imply that the multinationals feel that, if the Lisbon Treaty is passed, they will get away unnoticed with more consumer rip-offs and with fewer penalties for illegal, cartel activities? That is for them to say. It is clear to any analyst that the Lisbon Treaty will destructively undermine Europe’s anti-cartel powers. Multinationals have well-paid lawyers who do this full time. The consumers should have an expert institution to defend them against unscrupulous, sly cartels, in the Economic and Social Committee. Unfortunately it was one of the first bodies that de Gaulle and other nationalists wanted to be ‘chloroformed.’
Cartels are at the core of how Europe made ‘war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.’ Greed — typified by cartel activity — was identified by Schuman as a principal cause of war. Anti-cartel action has brought Europe unprecedented peace and prosperity. Do we want to destroy it now?
So who is pulling the strings for Europe? According to one of the multinational bosses in the YES lobby, it is not the ‘inept civil service’ . And as for the politicians, who are — in theory — supposed to be democratic representatives of the people, this boss has no confidence in them at all. He says he does ‘not trust incompetent politicians to win the argument alone‘ for the Lisbon Treaty. That is why he is infusing masses of money to get the ‘right‘ answer for his company.
He has raised the stakes. He poured in a lottery fortune by any citizen’s reckoning. Except it is negligible for a multinational’s budget. Avoiding one further fine would be a great business deal, great for other cartel operators too! It costs less than a tenth of one per cent of one fine for anti-cartel activities. In such illegalities, the European Commission said one multinational ripped untold billions off citizens and undermined competitor companies’ profits by abusing its dominant position. Cartels, whether industrial or political, steal from honest citizens.
So a weakened anti-cartel agency — the Commission — would mean a cartel firm would not only avoid further billion euro fines, but rip further billions off the European (and other) consumers.
For undemocratic cartels, reinforcing the YES vote has major consequences for their profit line. They damage political parties. They establish a dependency culture with the weakened political class that has lost the confidence of the public. The cartel firm becomes the local mafia protection racket expecting the political class to jump to their every wish. After all, didn’t they help ‘the incompetent politicians‘ achieve their squalid deal of the Lisbon Treaty? The voters are no more than dumb instruments in this undemocratic struggle. Their multiple No, No, No (French, Dutch, Irish …) means nothing until they say YES, I submit. (The French, Dutch and British and others have already been bound and gagged by the local political protection racketeers. No more referendums for these voters.)
There’s more. The cartel firms can also ask for European funding if they threaten to sack workers or close down plants. Who supplies the cash? The same despised politicians acting through buddies in the Commission and Council. Consumers in civil society, that is the tax-payer associations, a vital part of Schuman’s democratic design in such decisions, have been cut out of vetoing this abusive system of back-handers and growing corruption. De Gaulle said he ‘chloroformed‘ this voice of civil society.
A further danger has been exposed. At present there is little or no restraint for any foreign company to spend whatever it wants to influence voters — such as in the Irish referendum. ‘A “third party” campaigning at the referendum is not required to disclose details of donations received or of expenses incurred,’ says SIPO. They can create an atmosphere of fear for jobs, homes and security to manipulate the result by emotion, not reason. A referendum is one of the few cases where the public voice is now legally allowed.
Companies can outspend any political party. Such companies — whether foreign armaments firms, States with massive sovereign funds, foreign religious-political entities or external energy monopolies — could be ripping off citizens, fostering deceit and exploitation — and at the same time spending for a public relations campaign aimed at urging citizens to vote to stop anti-cartel action or democratic control that would expose them to the light of day.
Europe is in serious trouble. It is high time for the citizens to wake up from chloroformed sleep.David Heilbron Price
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