News and Research on Europe highlighting Robert Schuman's political, economic, philosophical contribution from the independent Schuman Project Directed by David H Price.
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                                                                                                                            23 OCTOBER 2005


                                The Democratic Vision for Europe

Dear President Blair,
The European Union (EU) is not a centralising type of federation like USA. Ultimate responsibility to make Europe more democratic and fair lies, as always, with national democracies. Creating a democratic Community of democracies was the life’s goal of the EU’s founder, the erudite Frenchman Robert Schuman, a renowned international lawyer and scholar of the history of democracy. Modern democracy, he said, began to take its qualitatively different form two thousand years ago. By stages through long periods of trial and error, bearing the pain of blunders and inhumanity, it established the rights and equality of all humans without exception.  Progress is not automatic. To work efficiently, European citizens must be convinced that the EU institutions and laws apply democratic principles. They can also judge if the EU brings in practice fair, democratic results for all. They can smell humbug.  What went wrong and what is the solution?

This year, after French and Dutch referendums gave a resounding No to the Constitutional Treaty, the June Brussels summit gave the British presidency of the European Union the task of explaining to the public how the Union works. The leaders called it Plan D for Dialogue. Britain, in fact, has a much heavier responsibility. The British presidency will be judged on what practical steps it takes forging European democracy in a clear vision about how it should develop. The European Union is about democratic reconciliation. European democracy is seen and judged through the prism of values common to the democratic systems of 25 member states. Democracies can only hope to provide a consensus when they apply European principles that reinforce moral values like open government, honesty, fairness to all, the worth of every citizen, justice and working for the common good of all. Democracies are not always perfect examples of these matters at home.

Firstly, the British should learn the lessons of sixty difficult years of European unification. Some politicians tried to block the real democracy envisaged by Schuman and agreed by parliaments of the EU’s founding States. Some, like de Gaulle, tried to destroy the Community. Some British tried to undermine it by putting Europe at sixes and sevens. They did not succeed but that does not mean they left European democracy without needing repair from selfish nationalism and ignorance. Some governments held the EU in contempt, even fear. Some purposefully or accidentally misinform.

We should learn from the damaging bungle of the Dutch who held the Presidency in the same six months of last year. The Dutch set among their priorities a major information initiative called ‘Image of Europe’. It was a major public relations disaster. It indicated the organizers, the European institutions themselves and large sections of the public are ignorant of the principles of European democracy and journalistic freedom.

With fanfare, the Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr Bernard Bot, the Europe Minister Atzo Nicolai, accompanied by the then Commission President Mr Romano Prodi opened a four-month exhibition. The Dutch staged the show on Brussels’ most prominent site - the Robert Schuman Roundabout between the Commission’s Berlaymont building and that of the Council of Ministers. At the December 2004 Summit, the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, extolled this campaign “Communicating Europe” to the world’s press. Months later his Europe Minister, writing in his name, admitted  –  but only in a personal letter – that he considered the crude, anti-European forgeries it trumpeted, uncorrected over the whole period, “most serious errors”.

PR Disaster. As a PR disaster it would be equivalent to an American President opening an exhibition where President Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying that he had lied about his belief in democracy. The Dutch exhibition would rate as much a fraud as if Lincoln had been showcased with dozens of exhibits saying the best results could be achieved, not by democracy, but by conspiracy and stealth against the people.

Today we can see how much the Dutch were playing with lighted matches. A grotesque slander was put it into the mouth of a famous Frenchman. A few months later, both the French and the Dutch voted No in referendums on the Constitutional Treaty. It threw the European institutions into a deep crisis of democracy.

Europe’s nations should be guided to the super-state without the people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.

Allegedly this quotation came from Mr Jean Monnet, one of the European Union’s founding fathers and the Commission’s first president. It is totally false. A quotation balloon comes straight out of Mr Monnet’s mouth in a huge, dominating photo. It was not just an isolated blunder. It formed the key theme that European integration had been achieved “by stealth”, “almost invisibly” and disguised from voters’ awareness (and presumably journalistic investigation) for forty years. French Prime Minister Robert Schuman, the initiator of European democracy, was also lampooned.

Such an in-your-face, institutional libel, paid by taxpayers, is an insult to voters and poisons citizens’ trust in European institutions. Just the opposite of Plan D for honest dialogue! All this, at a time when the orange revolution in Ukraine waved European flags and looked to the European Union for help! Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians of all ages spent bitterly cold days and nights in protest at fraudulent democracy. Ukrainians even came and stood outside the Berlaymont in the Belgian snow too. What moral legitimacy can the European Union have, if Monnet, (head of the world’s first international cartel-busting authority of all things!) conspired to mould “the super-state without the people understanding what was happening”? What does it say to new member states who liberated themselves from Soviet-controlled “people’s democracies”?  Why should Croatia, Turkey, Rumania and Bulgaria aspire to join if Europeans are stupidly tricked by conspiracy and are heading for an anti-democratic federation? As for “stealth” and “invisibility”, for sixty years “Europe” has entailed more analyses and votes in parliament, raised more passions in public, consumed more newspaper ink, filled more air waves on radio and television and generated more digital traffic than any other non-national topic! An odd concept of stealth!

After the show opened, I challenged the organisers to produce a source for such obvious frauds. The organisers never replied. Then I wrote to the Dutch presidency and the Commission. The Commission’s official reaction was limp. A spokesman said they could not vouch for things that were said half a century ago. At the end of the four months the Monnet libel had still not been denounced, riposted, corrected or removed. The organisers did alter dozens of other mistakes in quotations, attributions, spellings and dates! Without official retraction, Eurosceptics could claim anti-democratic “stealth” was implicitly confirmed, even championed, by all Europe’s top brass.

In November last year, the scandal was bruited in the continental press (not of course in the UK). The Anglo-Dutch organisers admitted in a letter to the continental Financial Times that they were “fooled” by the “ crass fabrication” slandering Jean Monnet. They said it was “well-known” and on “more than 100 websites” (mostly in the UK, others in the USA.) They apologised to “the visitors of the exhibition who have now also been fooled, and to the spirit of Jean Monnet.” But the show went on for two more months, unchanged. Why did they choose black propaganda from Europhobic sites using this and other forgeries to urge British voters to leave the Union? How did these deceptions “fool” Europe’s highest officials too? Why did the European hierarchy never denounce the disinformation and the organisers never correct it?

Something is seriously sick inside the European institutions.

Prime Minister, what lessons can be drawn at this UK confidence-trick where no minor European officials, nor the French government, seem to have protested at the defamation of European founding fathers? Were officials too scared to point out to their bosses, who opened the exhibition, that they were NOT working for a conspiracy? Or did no-one care? The Commission has a legal duty do to correct such nonsense. It is guardian of the treaties and of our European democratic heritage. Democracy was created with patience and fairness to overcome bombastic, greedy nationalism that leads to conflict and wars. Did the present French Gaullist government still hold grudges against Monnet? As for Schuman, his own broad democratic government saved the French Republic and prevented de Gaulle’s seizure of power in 1947.

Who defends European democracy? National democracies are not always the friends of the Europe’s democratic institutions. Attacking Brussels is a favourite way for less-than-scrupulous politicians to hide uncomfortable truths at home. The corridors of the European Union also seem flooded with technocrats little informed or interested in the history of the institutions for which they are working, let alone defending their heritage. They are a generation unburdened by the costs and sacrifices that were made to create European democracy against crude, nationalistic governments in the post-war years. Britain was not exempt. Its post-war Labour government opposed the creation of Europe’s first parliamentary assembly. Under pressure, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, as a concession to Schuman, said he was willing to let British MPs go to Strasbourg as long as they voted in a block with British government policy! Parliamentarians, he insisted, could not speak on any topics except those on an agenda set by ministers! Likening the British proposals to a totalitarian system, former French prime minister Paul Reynaud asked: “Gentlemen, where shall we go if we see Old England ... which has the glory of being the mother of parliaments … abandoning democracy?” Thus, the UK wasted her moral capital after the war.

Anti-democratic conspiracy appears nowhere in Monnet’s writing or archives. With reason. It is the opposite of what Monnet lived and worked for. Schuman explained many times in speeches and writings that the idea of the European Community was to apply democracy to prevent the creation of a superstate!

Robert Schuman, as French Prime Minister and then Foreign Minister, created today’s institutional framework. Reconciliation of former ancestral enemies fired Europe’s economic powerhouse. As a magnet of democracies, its moral example broke dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece and sundered the Soviet Union. The major forums that citizens have to express European public opinion were founded earlier by initiatives of Schuman and his governments: the Council of Europe, where Winston Churchill, Macmillan, Spaak and many other statesmen debated, the European Parliament and the European Court too.

Schuman improved on the definition of democracy of American President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said it was “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Schuman’s simpler and more scientific definition is recently republished in a book of his early speeches.   Democracy is “at the service of the people and acting in agreement with it.” The European people are defining how they can best serve themselves, other Europeans and the world. All agreements must be corroborated democratically.

The French and Dutch referendums uncover Europe’s deep, untreated democratic malaise.


Distrust. That is manifested in most of the reasons the French and Dutch gave in voting No in referendums on the Constitutional Treaty. Some distrusted politicians. Some at the extremes are nationalists and dislike all foreigners. Some people have Angst that neither national governments, nor the European institutions are up to the task of saving jobs when dealing with China’s and India’s industrialisation, and USA’s Mr Bush. Passionate young people want Europe to deal with globalisation and the environment. Of Dutch No voters, four out of five supported EU membership. Even more French Non-voters (83%) were EU supporters. They waved the European flag and voted No. Bankers and shoppers accused the French and German governments of cheating on their own monetary rules and undermining the Euro in their pocket. Most favour the European principle but not government practice, suspecting that the Constitutional Treaty hides Europe’s real power structure and corruption. When people do not understand, they are distrustful.

How has such distrust arisen? It is rampant among core Europeans who best know European construction: French, Dutch, Germans, Italians and Luxembourgers. That is significant. The European Community, initiated by the French Government’s Declaration of Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, has engineered the greatest prosperity for the largest population in all Europe’s history, nearly half a billion citizens. And it brought a longer, deeper peace than these countries have ever known: sixty years. So why distrust?

The five institutions. Distrust is eliminated by open democracy. Schuman said democracy was defined by objectives the people have jointly set and with the means they have agreed to. (Pour l’Europe, p55). As for the means, Schuman planted five key institutions as roots for the growing Community. Three created democracy at the international level:

The early European Communities of the 1950s produced unprecedented growth for the Six original states. President de Gaulle, after the seizure of power in 1958, wanted the Community under his own French harness. He wanted a “common” agricultural policy to appease his French voters. Other Europeans did not judge him fair, tolerant or impartial. He certainly did not display the impartiality of a Schuman who found a way to defend not only France’s but everyone’s interests and well-being. The non-French Ministers said NO to de Gaulle. So in 1965 France boycotted the Council of Ministers. Thus began Europe’s gravest moment, the ‘crisis of the empty chair’. After half a year of sulking, France returned. Europe flourished.

Democrats then insisted that Parliament should be directly elected, as Schuman had said, and strengthened. Schuman had pioneered this new idea of a Parliament for Europeans in the Council of Europe in 1948-9. But European politicians neglected and sidelined the Schuman’s third level of democracy, a congress for civil society including what Schuman called ‘collectivities’. In-depth debate must include interest groups such as industrial associations, farmers, professional groups, workers’ unions and public consumers. Some ministers did not like it. It would eliminate patronage.

In a major speech before the Council of Europe describing the institutions of Europe’s first European Community as forged by parliamentarians of the six founding states, Schuman described its powers. He said the Consultative Committee would have “similar powers” to the Council of Ministers. That was necessary in order to safeguard the vital interests of enterprises, workers and consumers.  These groups would have analogous rights in the technical sphere as ministers had in the inter-governmental. Politicians could not hope fully to understand the full history of each sector, modern complications, trade interactions, trade union practice, professional ethics and industrial processes and multiple strategies for developing future markets in all member states. Interest groups could and did. The consumers of such products also had the own agenda and interests. These include not only prices and anti-competitive malpractice but environmental and personal matters. To legislate fairly for all states, a democratic, multi-sectoral, multi-national consensus must be found. It has to “avoid the exploitation of the weak by the powerful”. The Consultative Committee with its legal control was the forum where the future could be planned. Ministers, however, made sure that associations did not develop these democratic legal powers to express themselves. They created special committees that politicians themselves could “manage”. In the name of democracy, why?

The recent Constitutional Treaty clearly shows undemocratic manipulation of Europe’s institutions. It lists five European institutions. But the institution of Consultative Committees is not mentioned! Instead its place was taken by the European Council! In the English version, the Consultative Committees are now called “advisory bodies”. Wrong. Advice is different. Consultation is a fundamental part of democracy and implies legal powers and partnership in legislation. Every unwise person is free to reject advice and advisory bodies. The EU is presently acting under the Nice Treaty. Five institutions are also mentioned but the Consultative Committees are not replaced here by the European Council. In this treaty, the Council remains the Council whether the Council of Government Ministers or the European Council of Heads of Government and two Heads of State. The fifth institution is the Court of Auditors! The Consultative Committees are, however, mentioned in a separate part of the same Article 7.  Hence it still retains its theoretical legal authority dating back to the 1950s.

If the politicians keep changing how many institutions the EU has, and which are the key ones, can they blame Europe’s most informed people (the original Six) for suspecting jiggery-pockery, then voting NO?

What have been the consequences of this long, undemocratic backslide? The recent EU enlargement, for example, has created massive agricultural unemployment in some countries of central and eastern Europe. Schuman said that supranational policies were designed to avoid this. “In no case will workers’ standards of living be lowered. This is an absolute rule that we laid down among our basic principles from the first.”  He created the system that successfully did this. Ministers do not follow it today.

“Current policies have not yet delivered social justice for all,” says the Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s report to the British Presidency of the EU ‘European values in a globalised world’.  He cites child poverty and 19 million citizens unemployed. Lack of social justice indicates democracy is not working correctly. Democracy requires consultation. Now is high time to repair politicians’ abuse of the past decades.

Prosperity requires full democratic and representative consultation in order to define European values and reinforce the common will of all Europe’s productive forces. The latter have to respond not only to eliminating needless poverty but provide positive answers to the life-threatening problems of the planet. This is part of what Schuman called “our human responsibility.”

Civil associations. Why a democracy of associations or interest groups? Firstly, because associations of human beings represent and encapsulate centuries of collective struggles and joint culture. Associations have an in-depth, living experience of European values at work. They are the reservoirs of innovation, and knowledge of its benefits. They have evolved professional ethics and morals. They bring together generations of family and corporate interests. They know the lessons of history. With this background, they have penetrating views of how to organise our future. Together they provide the best elements to debate European civilisation and the future of our continent and planetary responsibility. They know about ideal conditions for investment, innovation and satisfying customers’ needs.

The European Community must be built on the strong foundation of working communities. Governments often want to make quick and simple decisions. Sometimes they are not wise, coherent, comprehensive, openly arrived at or honest. In backroom deals, government ministers may defend their own dubious national companies or placate their popular votes. They are not examples of the values other people want in order to create a healthy economy and prosperity for all.  Communities are strong, more productive and inventive when they see the ground rules are fair and just for all.

Secondly, democracy and open government reduces distrust and secrecy. It is estimated that presently there are more lobbyists around Brussels than there are European officials. They are well funded but do not represent all Europeans’ interests. Commission officials are a prime target. Today we are in danger of ‘democracy by lunch.’ The poor don’t take officials to lunch.

When a Commission official tries to draft a European law for ministerial decision on chemicals or to regulate advertising, he or she needs an in-depth knowledge of highly complex, technical sectors in 25 countries. For expertise he calls, not on Schuman’s tripartite, democratically organised, Consultative Committee, but on experts, sometimes partisan, in committees working in the shadows of the institutions. A further arcane jungle of “comitology” and national experts is shut behind the Council of Ministers’ closed doors. These bandage committees have been invented because ministers have refused to allow the Consultative Committee system to function properly and democratically. Schuman said these committees should be not be under the control of ministers. We should “avoid the mistakes of our national bureaucracies,” he warned. “Complicating the administrative machinery with a burgeoning numbers of officials is no guarantee against abuse.  They are often themselves the result of political buy-offs and patronage.”

Open government. Worse, ministers in Council still refuse to debate in public ? astounding disdain when public money and citizens’ interests are involved. Astounding, if it were only the local parish council. But this Council regulates a trading entity with both small and multinational firms producing and distributing a third of world exports.

The Council should be open to the press. Schuman reiterated that “the councils, committees and other bodies {of Europe} should be placed under the control of public opinion.” (Pour l’Europe, p145.) The livelihood of millions of Europeans, their jobs and living conditions depend on ministers’ secret deliberations. Contrary to present practice, ministers should justify publicly and democratically the need for each private debate.

No wonder that people used referendums to express their open discontent at secretive government. How can governments produce growth if the productive elements of society are not consulted and if there is not full democratic accountability for that consultation down to the local shop?

Schuman created an embryo institution for open, technical debate among interest groups. Their joint opinion, built by consensus or voted, was vital for draft laws. If the groups agreed and said the measures were unwise, no Court could say the ministers had full legitimacy. If they refused to give ministers an Opinion, no legislation could take place. Schuman knew this act would take moral courage and political maturity. Schuman’s original tripartite Consultative Committee had even more potential power than the Parliament. In their regulatory decisions, Ministers sometimes acted in total disdain for the Opinions of both Parliament and Consultative Committees. Then the Council went too far. In 1979 the Parliament said NO. The momentous event was the innocuous-sounding Isoglucose case. Council Ministers had tried to pass a European law, a Regulation, without even waiting for Parliament’s Opinion. The European Court of Justice made the Council back down. It was illegal.

Consultation, the Judges said, is an essential factor in the institutional balance intended by the Treaty. It is a fundamental principle of democracy. Therefore, they said, due consultation in cases provided for in the Treaty constitutes an essential formality. Disregard of consultation means that the measure concerned is void.  Governments had again been caught red-handed, cheating.

The Parliament increasingly overcame nationalism and petty squabbles. It grew in democratic stature. It has still some way to go.   But today it confirms the appointment of the Commission and elects the Ombudsman. It casts attentive eyes over the Community budget and spending. Its No means NO.

However, the third level of democracy in Schuman’s original conception remains a rubber stamp kept in the pocket of governments. Consultation? They have at least as much right as Parliament as they are called the Consultative Committees! The treaties specify dozens of specific cases where consultation was absolutely essential and more where it was advisable. The Parliament originally had only one per year. And at the start, parliamentarians were selected by ministers. Yet the governmental hand still selects the mouths who might speak in consultative committees - hardly changed from what Reynaud despairingly called a “totalitarian” approach!

This rot started early. Ministers had made illegal and anti-democratic changes scarcely before the ink dried on Europe’s first constitutionalizing treaty, the Treaty of Paris. The moment came just after the treaty had been discussed and passed after due democratic debate by all eleven chambers in member states’ parliaments. Who declared the changes “illegal”? None other than Schuman’s legal counsellor at the Foreign Ministry, Professor Paul Reuter. At Schuman’s instructions, he drafted much of the Treaty with full agreement of other delegations. Ministers then made the Committee supine. They created and reinforced a patronage system. “The Council of Ministers fixed on a solution where they had difficulty masking its illegality with ingenuity,” Reuter wrote.   (La Communaute europeenne de l'Acier et du Charbon, p58)  A very costly mistake: that of good law.

In the same book Schuman emphasizes Reuter’s “precise vision of the system.” The Community bodies on the one side need to “maintain constant contact between governments, groups of producers, workers and consumers on the other. … The system of obligatory, preliminary consultations guarantees the inherent power of each side to present its own point of view in adequate time.”  The obligatory, legal and representational nature of the consultations was repeated in Europe’s second supranational Community and in the third, the Economic Community.  However, development of their democratic representation was stifled.

Later, even when those Committees raised valid objections to the legislation, they were often scorned. For half a century ministers bottom-drawered, ignored or completely rejected many Consultative Committee Opinions in legislation. It never said NO. The geo-political organ of the Consultative Committee, in today’s Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions, has been reduced to an appendix … by national “democracies”. Some ministers want them to disappear.

They already control appointments. Government ministers, with their conclave doors firmly slammed in the public’s ears, decide who will or will not be members to “advise” them. Patronage reduces members’ accountability to real interests and their ties to public. Ministers’ secrecy casts doubt on their moral standing or consultative committee members’ honest repute. They have to explain to their own group interests why ministers so often reject their “advice”.  Sometimes ministers’ insensitivity causes unexpected changes, major costs and problems to industries, workers, buyers and entire sectors. Ministers still treat civil society, the most vital associations of democracy, as their disposable accessory.

Today demonstrators still come to Brussels to protest. They are predominantly independent trade associations and workers. They demand social justice. Their presence and their banners confirm the lack of it. They object to the lack of consultation in Ministers’ decisions. Consultation, they say, is a fundamental democratic right to defend their livelihoods. It is a sure sign the institutions are not properly functioning.

Are “democratic” governments still afraid if democratic associations organise themselves as an impartial pillar of democracy at the European level? They have technical expertise but now little respect and confidence of the public.

Recent events like the Chinese textile fiasco show that governments are far from all knowing. Democracy requires consultation with all associations concerned, not ministerial unilateralism.

Ten trillion Euro economy.
Our world becomes more and more complex. Europe’s ten trillion euro economy needs a real congress of interest groups or collectivities. Europe should bring the lobbyists in from the streets and restaurants and experts out of shadowy corridors.

The light of day needs to shine on interest groups. Iron should sharpen iron testing ‘fact’ and ‘truth’. Industrialists need to confront ecologists; impoverished family farmers need to speak out to monopolistic supermarket wholesalers. Globalised industries need to explain themselves to development agencies and vice versa. When membership is truly representative and democratic, solid, technical debate can happen. Open, in-depth discussions will enrich the quality of European politics. Impartial analysis reveals strategic values worth safeguarding. Values, like fairness, honesty, justice and long-term strategies, help forge a stable consensus to legislate for Europe’s future. Open power structures including interest groups will develop trust among Europe’s half billion citizens and its 25 governments.

Democracy will blossom when Europe’s Consultative Committees vote No. It will bloom when they take full democratic responsibility for their own livelihoods.

Mr Prime Minister, European democracy requires action and commitment by governments, not just words.

Yours sincerely,
David Price
David Heilbron Price has written a number of books on Schuman and European politics. He directs the website:                        © Bron 2005

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