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Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not too late

EU leaders are already running into problems with the ambiguity of the Lisbon Treaty, as they battle it out over whether or not the post should be, as David Cameron put it, "all-singing, all dancing" (Tony Blair), or more low-key and more akin to the kind of role the rotating EU President currently plays (Juncker, Balkenende).

Either way, the EU President will have no democratic mandate whatsoever, so anything other than a low-key role coordinating the EU agenda and similar to the current role of the rotating EU President is essentially a power grab.

The new EU President will earn roughly the same basic salary as the democratically-elected President of the United States, who has the support of 70 million people. The EU President, meanwhile, will have been appointed by a handful of leaders meeting behind closed doors in Brussels, with no input at all from national parliaments, let alone the people.

It is absurd, and a perfect illustration of how out of touch and anti-democratic the EU has become. The President will be appointed by a qualified majority vote in the Council (potentially as few as 18 people) so no country has a veto.

The people pulling the strings in the corridors of Brussels are amazingly arrogant about this fact. A couple of weeks ago an unnamed senior French diplomat pointed out that although most people in Europe will be against the idea of Blair for EU President, because of his position on the Iraq war, that makes no difference at all, because "only public opinion is concerned about this, not the 27 Heads of State and Government that will vote him in".

The current system of rotating EU Presidencies, which Lisbon replaces, is not ideal, but at least it means that prime ministers and presidents who have a current, democratic mandate to rule get to set the agenda in Europe for six months at a time. Appointing an ex-PM or President like Tony Blair will move the EU even further away from the people, as it is likely that whoever it is will have fallen from grace in his or her own country. He is yesterday’s news.

In what other region in the world does an ex-leader get to represent millions of people on the world stage, rubbing shoulders with Barak Obama? This is a huge step backwards for democracy, and the more powerful and grandiose the role, the further the EU will move away from the people.

In some ways, it would be good if Tony Blair was appointed EU President, because it would bring home to many people exactly what the Lisbon Treaty means. It would be the first tangible consequence of the Treaty. For years, people have struggled to understand why they should care about the Treaty, and what it will mean in practice. The Lib Dems, for instance, would hate to see Tony back in power and yet they strongly pushed for this role to be created by supporting the Treaty and conspiring to deny ordinary people a say. Lib Dem delegates at this year’s conference backed a motion saying Blair should not become EU President – but they really should have thought of that much earlier.

In yesterday's Evening Standard Ann McElvoy made a good point about the paradox of giving Blair, the man who divided Europe so deeply over foreign policy, the role of trying to craft a united foreign policy. But she also questioned whether a small nation would have the clout. This dilemma, which EU leaders are now having to confront, exactly represents the problem with the Treaty and the mistaken idea that you can create consensus where none exists by attempting to shoehorn countries through the creation of new institutions.

The Lisbon Treaty is deliberately vague about what he or she will do. The job title is one of many ‘unanswered’ questions about the Treaty, which meant MPs were essentially signing a blank cheque when they agreed to the Treaty last year. It will depend to a certain extent on the job title of the EU Foreign Minister (another unanswered question), and of course the person who takes the job first. To a great extent, the furore over Blair in the media is futile, since ordinary people have absolutely no say at all in who will take this job or what it will look like. By signing the Treaty, we have already handed that power irrevocably to the European Council (unless of course the Czechs now scupper the Treaty).

However, it’s clear that right from the beginning, Tony Blair wanted this role to be a powerful, symbolic and international one. During negotiations on the original EU Constitution back in 2002-2003, Peter Hain, acting on behalf of the UK Government, tried to amend the text so that the EU President would have responsibility for the general "external representation of the Union".

Article 15 of the Lisbon Treaty says: "The President of the European Council shall, at his or her level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."

However, Peter Hain tried to change it to simply read: "The President of the European Council shall in that capacity ensure, at his level, the external representation of the Union, without prejudice to the responsibilities of the President of the Commission and the Minister for Foreign Affairs." (See here for how Peter Hain tried to cross out the words "on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy" http://european-convention.eu.int/Docs/Treaty/pdf/41699/41699_Art%2021%20Hain%20EN.pdf )

Surely this is a good climate in which to scrap the whole idea. After all, it's not too late.

Open Europe will be supporting a demo tomorrow morning between 10am and 12pm at the Rondpont Schuman in Brussels, just outside the Council, in support of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is still holding out against the Treaty.

Come grab your Czech flag and join us!

2 comments:

Andreas Firewolf said...

We dutch people said ‘NO’ to the new European treaty. Then Balkenende decided, that we should not be allowed to vote again after the politicians made same cosmetic changes to the treaty. Then Balkenende said ‘YES’ to giving away our rights and our sovereignty against our explicit will. So the people of the Netherlands said ‘NO’. And Balkenende is guilty of High Treason.

Europe and the USA have a very big mouth about democracy, elections, honesty, human rights. But is there democracy in the Netherlands? Have the people a say in their own affairs? Or do we need to go to The Hague with a guillotine, before somebody listens?

The voters are running away from traditional parties towards new extremist parties. They have very good reasons for doing so. The traditional politicians have betrayed us so many times, that nobody takes them serious anymore.

I am from the Netherlands. And I know that Balkenende would be a very wrong choice. In the Netherlands he has been absent in each and every crisis. Only when the opposition forces him to an opinion, he comes up with some kind of statement. He gives the impression of someone suffering from a clinical depression.

Beside this, he is a child! When he first met Bush jr., the former president of the USA, he behaved like a small boy that got a compliment of a headmaster. When he was patted on his shoulder by mister president, he was out of his wits from joy. In the Netherlands we made jokes about this, but we were extremely embarrassed. To please this Bush, he dragged us in an illegal war with Iraq. When the new coalition for his present government was formed, he demanded, that there would be no interrogation about this war. So we, the people, are not allowed to know what really let to this war.

10/27 2005 there was a fire in a prison for persons seeking asylum. One asylum-seeker smoked a cigarette and the building burned down. Eleven people burned to death, many were severely burned. The person who smoked a cigarette was prosecuted for murder and found guilty. But who was to blame? The fire brigade previously tried to close down the facility because it was a fire-hazard. The council of the town were it was located agreed and made a decision to close it down. This council decision then was overruled by the minister of justice, Piet Hein Donner. For this, he had to resign and new elections were held. In the next government Balkenende choose this same Donner as minister of social affairs.

It is quite easy to put all the blame on a person seeking asylum. He can not defend himself and it is easy to kick him around. But the truth is: Piet Hein Donner is guilty of eleven counts of burn-murder. He should be in jail. But in the Netherlands he is minister of Social Affairs. With many thanks to his associate Balkenende.

This same Balkenende demanded, that the christian god should be put in the European constitution. He wanted to turn the European constitution into a gross violation of our constitution and of human rights. That is one of the reasons why we, the dutch, said ‘NO’. And that is why we don’t trust Balkenende. The Netherlands signed a treaty about the human rights. Religious discrimination is a violation of our human rights. Balkenende is just an oath breaker, a Christian bigot that violates our human rights and who wants to impose his dirty superstition upon us.

Keep in mind that we did not elect Balkenende. A vast majority of the dutch doesn’t want him. He is the leader of the Christian Democrats, not of the Netherlands. Politicians made him the unwanted head of state. And we do despise the whole political system for it.

Mark, Edinburgh said...

Is there still a chance to stop Lisbon?

Maybe Klaus has given in, but possibly with extra support he can still be persuaded to hold out?

There is a way.

Both the Irish and now the Czechs has been promised protocols in subsequent treaties to make their new Lisbon opt-outs legally binding.

This gives the opportunity for Cameron to make a low key "informational statement" in response to a planted question.

Cameron can simply clarify the British parliamentary convention, THAT IS NO BRITISH GOVERNMENT CAN BIND THEIR SUCCESSOR WITH REGARD TO FUTURE TREATIES.

Therefore a future Conservative government, if elected, does not feel bound by any current British government undertaking to automatically support future Lisbon Treaty protocols which may included in subsequent EU Treaties pertaining to accession or other matters out with the Lisbon process.

Note this is not the same as saying the new Conservative Government will veto Lisbon protocols, just that they are not bound to honour them, and reserve the right to make up their mind depending on the circumstances at the time.

Such a statement would of course have been unhelpful in the Irish process because it would have been seen as British interference and undermining the Irish government.

But with Klaus surely the situation is quite different.

Such a routine informational clarification gives him just the excuse he needs to withhold signature until he knows the Czech opt out is either legally binding because its guaranteed by a future British government, or that Lisbon has fallen because of a British referendum.

Why can't Cameron throw Klaus this lifeline, or at least talk to him about it?

After all it can't be argued that the leader of the British opposition does not do such things. The DUP and Sinn Fein have just asked Cameron to confirm he will stick by the new Brown Ulster money deal, and it has been reported that Cameron has done precisely that.

Good luck with your rally in Brussels today.

Actually I wrote to Klaus thanking him for his approach, and got a vice nice standard acknowledgement postcard back.

Hopefully Cameron might just get a little more than that if he follows the line I suggest (always assuming he really wants it of course)?