This month British, American and many Commonwealth countries celebrate the Magna Carta of 15 June 1215. The document signed at Runnymede by King John at the insistence of English and Welsh barons reaffirmed ancient British rights, some of them dating back more than a thousand years before King John. That is well before the fifth century Anglo-Saxons arrived (or the Normans in 1066). The codification of so-called ‘Welsh Law‘ by tenth-century ‘King of the Britons’ Hywel the Good before the English conquest stands as witness to some of these Common Law rights.
The Magna Carta forced the English king to recognize that Justice was not at the whim of the ruler but a supranational value. Both Anglo-Saxons and Normans were a little slow in learning. Since time immemorial ancient Keltic and Cymric laws always maintained the principle, enunciated at the start of their assemblies ‘the country is above the king‘ ‘Trech gwlad n’ arglwydd’
Robert Schuman, the Founder of the European Community system, was a passionate theoretician and practitioner of democracy. He was an admirer of the British and American democracies. His definition of democracy improves on Lincoln’s famous adage of democracy being ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’
Schuman said that ‘What characterized a democratic state were the objectives that it proposed for itself and the means it searches to attain them.’ Thus while European unity was a good goal in the modern world what was also important was the means by which it is attained and the instruments by which that unity is governed by the people. He continued:
‘It is at the service of the people and acts in agreement with it.’
Service to the people is a vital criterion. It is, in other words, the search for the common good. Just by writing those words evokes the need for a broad debate about what is ‘service’ to the people. What is really the common good? It requires the public exploration of ‘European values’ based on spiritual and moral foundations.
That is why Schuman drafted a Great Charter of the European Community. Also known as the Europe Declaration, it was signed by all the Founding Fathers when they agreed to the Community principles on 18 April 1951. They also signed the first treaty, that of a European Coal and Steel Community, whose basic idea was to expose in practical terms how peace could be constructed and how democracy could be erected at the European level.
The Great Charter of Europe gives as a major principle the following:
In signing the treaty founding the European Community for Coal and Steel Community, a community of 160 million Europeans, the contracting parties give proof of their determination to call into life the first supranational institution, and consequently create the true foundation for an organized Europe.
This Europe is open to all European countries that are able to choose freely for themselves. We sincerely hope that other countries will join us in our common endeavour.
That assurance and guarantee was vital as the Community system stood starkly and courageously in contrast with so-called ‘People’s Democracies’ of the Soviet zone of control. No west European country could boast the 98 percent turnout of voters in the German Democratic Republic (DDR) from 1950 to 1970s. What is even more ‘enviable’ was the extent that 99 percent voted for politicians of nominal Christian Democrat, Liberal, Socialist and other parties who supported the common Communist programme. Only a fraction of one percent voted against this Soviet-controlled programme!
Were elections really free? Obviously not. But at least the DDR let the people vote, even in referendums! The common programme was devised in secret without free public criticism or open to the free press.
Where are we today?
This month of June 2015 is also the tenth anniversary of the burial of the sad affair of the Constitutional Treaty! (Sometimes it is erroneously called the ‘Constitution’. It was never a real constitution, as its author, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, constantly said.)
France voted against it. With a 69 percent turnout, 55 percent said ‘NON’! The Netherlands were more emphatic — 69 percent No! Other Europeans in other States were set to vote against it. But their right to hold a referendum was withdrawn! By whom? The representatives of the people!
Schuman always respected the referendum votes (for example on the Constitution of the Fourth Republic). Even de Gaulle did too, although he used the referendum as a means to maintain autocratic power against the influence of political parties. When the people said No to his reform proposal, he resigned. How many politicians resigned in 2005?
Unfortunately the present breed of politicians is even more cynical and underhand. The politicians served their Constitutional Treaty up again. Not as a full text, but as amendments to the current treaty for the European Economic Community. Their document was a list. It was an incomprehensible mass of ‘omit this’ and ‘replace it with that’. The politicians said publicly that it was their plan. It had to be incomprehensible to pass it through parliaments! They refused to publish the complete, amended treaty. One Belgian minister said:
‘The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable. … The aim of this treaty is to be unreadable. … The aim of the Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success.’ (Flanders info, 23 June 2007)
Was he sacked? No, he became a European Commissioner!
Instead of a referendum ( which was sure to be lost!) the political class agreed it amongst themselves. It gave parties money and power. They voted it in in their parliaments under party discipline. In some parliaments this was voted without seeing the text! In others, like France, it required a change to the national constitution to enable this unethical manoeuvre to be done. The European Parliament to its lasting shame refused to publish the full text before symbolically voting Yes on it.
No further referendum!
It produced the same result as the ‘Constitutional Treaty’ but was renamed the Lisbon Treaty. Was it identical? Yes, except for the removal of articles on the official flying of the European flag and playing the European anthem. What a coldly Machiavellian piece of democratic mockery that action was.
The basic principle that Schuman enunciated (signed by all Founding Fathers as the Charter of the Community) was that all steps towards European unity must have the wholehearted support of the people by democratic vote at all levels of European activity.
The Founding Fathers provided several independent institutions to guarantee that the Community would be easily distinguish as ‘Democratic Europe’ from the false and artificial ‘People’s Democracies’ of the Soviet zone.
- a Council of Ministers that was open to the press in all its deliberations and decisions (not yet happened!).
- A European Parliament that was elected under a single set of electoral rules (not yet happened!).
- Consultative Committees that were elected by European Associations (not yet happened!),
- Commission whose members are honest as Court judges and have thus divested themselves of any relevant interests including membership of political parties (not yet happened and party politicians propose party membership should be mandatory!).
Aren’t you glad that Europe today is not cynically controlled by Communists!
David Heilbron Price