With breath-taking frankness, European leaders admitted in public that they had no intention to make European ‘democratic’ institutions open and responsive to civil society. They want them to remain closed and in the hands of a small cartel of politicians and their party machines. But this is ILLEGAL. Their admission flies in the face of both the letter and the spirit even of the Lisbon Treaty — which the party machines voted into effect, sometimes without even reading the text. One principle that escaped their notice is that public money requires an open public debate. The treaty insists on open debate, not secret conclaves.

The Lisbon Treaty was not ALL dictated by politicians who wanted more power and more money for their careers. Initially it was called the Constitutional Treaty, with which it is largely identical. (It was never a constitution but merely another treaty as Mr Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, its architect, said many times.)

The drafting of that goes back about a decade. Among the groups that were asked to participate were a few who represented organised civil society. There were also a few who remembered some of the democratic principles before the politicians got on their hobby-horse of the power-accreting Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice (MAN) process.

One of the main principles still remains in the Lisbon Treaty. It is called Transparency. Transparency is fundamental to democracy. The principle of Transparency is written in Article 15 of what is called the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Let me quote:

In order to promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society, the Union institutions, bodies and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.

By their own wish and will, the European leaders decided that the European Council should now be classified as a European institution. It should therefore be open, far more than in the past. Before it was not under the Community system. It was an informal organization and not an official institution. It involved dainty dinners, fine wines and private invitations. Held in exotic locations they were formatted to discourage any thought that the public or the press could gatecrash the exclusive party of would-be power-brokers. The succulent cuisine was contrived to please and pamper egos. If there were any fireworks between the guests, they were private.

Times have changed. The European Council must now respect the joint rules of democratic discourse. It must be open as much as democratically possible. The Leaders must arrange it that every door is open to ‘promote good governance and ensure the participation of civil society.’ It is not a pious wish but a legal obligation of the Treaty that they signed. It is part of a compact between the 27 leaders and all the people.

It does not take a great deal of effort to open a door. To close, bar and lock it takes much more muscle. It also takes an act of will. Why? Because when anyone enters the room, the door must be open. That person then has to will to close it. So any closing of doors has to be explained and agreed by the people in authority — that is the 500 million people who are in charge in a democracy. It is not a matter that is in the hands of the leaders as if they had a privilege to do so. They have no privilege of privacy on public affairs until it is granted by the people.

Secondly the people are quite often most concerned with public money and taxes. That is why they elect representatives to manage fairly and justly their money. There can be no legitimate taxation without fair representation.

Money is collected by democratic legislation from the public by the people’s representatives, in agreement with the will of the people. Money is spent by democratic legislation in agreement with the will of the people. Do the representatives of the people have a right to close the doors of a debate about people’s money? No. The only possible exceptions relate to questions of national security and aspects where it is in the people’s interests that security should not be compromised. Nonetheless reputable democrats should ensure public and democratic control even on security matters.

Public control over public money is why the formulators of this main section on governance principles wrote in the next paragraph (15:2):

The European Parliament shall meet in public, as shall the Council when considering and voting on a draft legislative act.

As recorded in the first commentary, the following facts are apparent.

· Parliament has open sessions on the Budget in plenary and in Committee.

· When there is a disagreement between Council and Parliament, a tripartite Conciliation Committee meeting takes place between the Council and Parliament with the assistance of the Commission.

· This meeting according to the clear words of the Treaty should be open. Instead the doors were closed on this meeting on the collection and use of public money.

At the press conference following the European Council meeting on 29 October 2010, the following question was put to Mr Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council and Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission:

[The European Council] has spent a considerable time considering the budget. There was also a Conciliation Committee meeting during the week with Parliament. Under the new Lisbon Treaty it says that
The European Parliament shall meet in public, as shall the Council when considering and voting on a draft legislative act.
I was wondering why public money should be discussed in secret both in the Conciliation Committee and in the Council. This seems to be in violation to the Treaty. Perhaps you can clarify?

Both Commission and European Council representatives replied.

Commission President Barroso: Regarding the Parliament it is better to ask the Parliament The European Council is one institution and the Council is another. The European Council does not meet in open format. The Council, yes. Today what we have discussed in European Council is reflected in the conclusions.
I think we should keep of course the full respect of the Lisbon Treaty in all the co-decision procedures. The European Council is discussing very general principles that are reflected in the conclusions … so it was not appropriate to have this discussion in another format.

By the way I think that the European Council has never met in open format.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy: And will not do {so}.

It should be recalled that the Founding Fathers such as Robert Schuman wrote that the ‘Councils, Committees and other bodies must be placed under the control of public opinion,‘ Pour l’Europe, p145.

That is why some legislative procedures were enunciated with infantile simplicity in the Lisbon Treaty. Things which were considered understood by all or taken for granted had to be spelt out because government leaders took advantage of silence or ambiguity.

The section on Transparency in the institutions was added because the government leaders — who called themselves democrats — have since the time of Mr de Gaulle reinforced the secrecy of their deliberations on ‘package deals’. Closed room deals lead to corrupt practice like meat mountains and wine lakes at the citizen’s expense. Thus certain transitory arrangements have become semi-permanent.

They stayed because lifting them was also in the hands of ministers. Instead of democratising, they used them as toys for political games of power and influence. Transitory measures like closed councils were necessary at first before the various nations of Europe trusted each other to have meetings in public like grown ups. It is a question of political maturity. Have today’s leaders advanced as they should? Have they returned to neo-gaullism or national selfishness? Does TV time rule or public interest?

Equally consistent, they stopped organised civil society from electing its own representatives in its democratic institution.

De Gaulle also refused to have parliamentary elections to the European Parliament. Elected parliamentarians would be a distraction from his dominating presence in the media. He did not want to be a democrat like the practically unknown but less authoritarian Swiss president! (The Swiss have a better historic record of resisting autocrats and enemies.)

Today government leaders refuse to implement the second part of that oft-repeated sentence in the treaties that the elections should be pan-European and based on a single electoral statute. That legal obligation has been around and ministers have ignored it for nearly sixty years.

Transparency remains a prerequisite of democracy. Schuman wrote that democracy will only work if it is based on Christian principles. ‘Democracy will be Christian or it won’t exist. An unchristian democracy is a caricature which sinks into tyranny or anarchy,’ he wrote. One of these principles involves the correct understanding of human nature. Politicians, like all human beings, cannot be trusted not to err. Hence meetings should be open. Soviet atheism with its millions of victims in the gulags had closed meetings. So did many of the former regimes of now democratic Member States in both the East, Centre and West of Europe.

Three further meetings of the Conciliation Committee between Parliament, Council and Commission will take place. The next meeting is on Thursday, 4 November.

The day after, 5 November, is known in the UK as Fireworks Day. It is the day that the people burn effigies of the traitorous bad guy on a bonfire.

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  1. Do you think that this is really “illegal”? Or do you use this word for “illegitimate”. From reading what you say, it seems to me that the way things are done is “illegitimate” as it does not respect the spirit of the Treaty. However the wording is loose enough for it not to be “illegal”.

    If you think that it is “illegal”, then there would be a possibility for a legal challenge. I am not a lawyer but that could be very successful. Unfortunately, as I said, I think it is more likely to fail because the Treaty are not binding enough about the details and left lots of leeway to politicians to decide what to do in practice.

  2. George, thank you for an interesting question. My answer was a bit longer than fits comfortably here. You will find it in the next commentary called Budget3.

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