‘This is the beginning of a process for a European Foreign Policy,’ declared the President of the European Council, Mr Herman van Rompuy. He was speaking at the curt and unilluminating press conference after leaving the secret conclave of leaders of the European Council on 16 September 2010. It was reportedly a stormy meeting. However the public does not know for sure, because the alleged shouting match took place in private.
The European Council wants ownership of the EU’s foreign policy, Mr van Rompuy said. It would be implemented by other European institutions including the European Commission and the External Action Service. Policy declarations covered the Balkans, the Middle East and the Eastern Partnership.
Unfortunately, he did not explain why such foreign policy should be conceived and determined in secrecy. After all, we are dealing with public policy. When it comes to public policy Robert Schuman said that all the Councils and Committees and other bodies should be open to the public and subject to intensive public scrutiny. Economic and political integration must be ‘based on a democratic foundation,’ Schuman wrote in his book Pour l’Europe, p145.
What we have instead is an attempt to create public policy in secret. That is an oxymoron.
It is also a very dangerous idea. The world is convulsed by major global problems. Secretive banksters involved in trillion dollar frauds have sapped the economy. The legalities of sub-prime loans and toxic packages are still subject to court cases, affecting actions of all political leaders. Will further trillion dollar deals among the financial elites be again conducted in democratic obscurity? Should international budget matters amounting to thousands or millions of euros be subject to democratic scrutiny while those amounting to billions or trillions of dollars not get any? Shouldn’t they get a few thousand times more scrutiny?
Other multinational trading companies have larger budgets than many nation States. They thumb their noses at international laws. Is this the time for leaders to make foreign policy without any democratic control?
‘We can only be strong if we are united,’ said Mr van Rompuy. However, it should be recalled that the European Community and the EU is not the G27. Uniting the leaders in secret (if that can be done) is not the same as European democracy. It is pure inter-governmentalism. It will not bring a coherent foreign policy. It will leave Europe vulnerable and weak.
Firstly, what do European leaders mean by European Foreign Policy? They seem to mean the policy that 27 people plus one chairman make in a closed room as far away from the eyes and ears of democrats as possible. Secret agreements between heads of government do not make Community foreign policy. It has little or no democratic legitimacy, no supranational foundation. It is purely an intergovernmental agreement. And not even that, because the other ministers are banned from the discussion.
The Founding Fathers knew that intergovernmentalism was too fragile for the present dangerous world. The Council-style decree has not been subjected to democratic criticism. It has received no democratic assent. It has not even been debated. Strength comes from public consent after a full debate and democratic law.
Council communiques are not the Foreign Policy of the European Union, that is, the values and interests of 500 million people with their jobs, families, organizations and values. The leaders may think themselves clever. But how can even the greatest brains work out what is in the interest as far as some citizen in the far-off Arctic and the islands of Greece? The idea that heads of government can formulate a foreign policy by themselves simply lacks democratic legitimacy. Unless they show a democratic assent, citizens must conclude there is at least a good possibility they are doing it all for themselves or their own PR glory.
It is Gaullism writ large. Charles de Gaulle said in 1946 that the State must repose on the interest and sentiment of the nation. However he wasn’t interested in finding out what that was. He wasn’t willing to listen. That was why he was kicked out. Then, ten years later, he seized power again in what another president called a permanent coup d’Etat.
A leader or leaders with flawed character will create flawed foreign policy. De Gaulle thought he was the only one who could decide foreign policy. De Gaulle did not tell his ministers what his foreign policy was …. until he pronounced it. Once this decree was made, his ministers had to rush around and tell everyone how good and great his decisions were. This often strained their “diplomatic skills” to find a positive spin.
He decided without telling his ministers that the United Kingdom, and by implication the candidate countries, Norway, Ireland and Denmark, should not be members of the Community of Europe. He did not tell anyone until he announced it. Not to parliament. Not to the Quai d’Orsay. Not to the foreign ministries of the candidate countries. Probably not to his wife or his dog.
He announced it to journalists, based on a planted question, at one of his fawning press conferences. He decided on another occasion that France should expel NATO Strategic Headquarters from French soil. Because of the reputation of Schuman in foreign affairs, France had gained this prestigious prize, so de Gaulle tried to undo it. It was only recently that France rejoined the NATO military structures. It was de Gaulle’s expensive folly.
At other times he just popped major strategic policy out in a speech such as when in 1967 on an official visit he cried: ‘Vive le Quebec libre!‘ inciting Quebec to break away from the Canadian federation. His diplomats then had to try to explain what he meant and support the Gaullist policy. Gaullism was foreign policy without the control of democracy.
The Council is now announcing a neo-Gaullist path of foreign policy. It is by decree of the political cartel of the Council. I am sorry to have to tell them that we are dealing with 27 democracies not 27 countries bound in an autocratic Gaullist federation from the Urals to the Atlantic. This is not the time of Charlemagne. It is the new era of supranational democracies.
Secondly, secret foreign policy deals were denounced in recent history as the cause of wars. After World War One, the US President Woodrow Wilson identified as one of the causes of war the lack of open treaties openly agreed. The League of Nations was set up to make sure that treaties and international agreements did not have hidden clauses like the German Rapallo agreement after the war.
Thirdly, foreign policy formulation even by so-called democrats is too often undemocratic. It can be harmful, and even worse. Who knows what the so-called democratic leaders get up to in secret? The Rapallo agreement in 1922 on secret German rearmament was not made by Hitler but by a democratic Weimar government. Germany plotted with the Soviet Union to re-arm against the international community, making it easy for the seizure of power by Hitler.
Should we trust today’s so-called democratic leaders? Do they really know what is the common European interest? Are they even working for the long-term benefit of a nation or for the TV news exposure and tomorrow’s press headlines?
They wouldn’t do anything as sinister as Rapallo, would they? Well, first remember that the German democrats probably thought they were doing good. They acted to support the German armament cartels. Then look at what we have now. The present Middle East policy is typically one of trillion dollar cartels and should be exposed to a full democratic debate.
Those at the European Council were the leaders or their successors who promised that after the French and Dutch public had rejected the Lisbon Treaty there would be a full democratic consultation about the next step. What did they do? They simply brought in the Constitutional Treaty that had been rejected by other means (without further referendums). They merely changed the name to the Lisbon Treaty while the contents stayed practically the same.
The easiest word for this is hypocrisy and there are a lot of harder words I could use. The conclusion is that the so-called democratic leaders simply cannot be trusted to keep their word.
Fourthly, their method proves they are pseudo-democrats, what Schuman called counterfeit democrats. If they had reformed their ways, if they were really democrats, they would have opened the doors of the European Council to the press. They didn’t. Why? They did not want the public — whom they are supposed to represent — to see their real interests and character. There were rumours and documents in circulation, Mr Barroso confirmed later, that there was sharp exchange of words amounting to a shouting match going on. A very unseemly sight to see on television, enough to frighten the children.
Fifthly, under the Lisbon Treaty there is no democratic or independent parliamentary control worth speaking of. The leaders like to meet in party political conclave before the European Councils, they do not meet with other democratic institutions. They do not meet with the public. Why?
Political parties are the largest lobbyist groups in Europe. They are not very successful in getting public support or even votes at elections. They have little funds, except the money they get from the taxpayers. Yet policy and ideology is pliable enough to accept funding directly or indirectly from the rich and from powerful international corporations, even sovereign funds from abroad. Who is making the policies of the parties? Certainly not the public.
Parliament provides no real forum for debate. It is composed of the same coalition of major parties. It lacks public support. More people refuse to vote than vote for any of its parties. The proportion of people refusing to vote out of disgust or disinterest is increasing at each election.
Why before the European Council do the leaders meet in separate, equally secret groupings as members of political parties, conservative, liberal, socialist, etc? It is to reinforce party political policy, to force it through the European Council. Is this democratic? Consider that 98 percent of the European public are not members of any political party and you will see that this not a representative way to approach a European Council.
It is a political cartel at work. This is the same process used by economic cartels to ‘fix’ the market and cream off huge illegal profits. Politicians are not going to talk about anything else but pushing through party ideology. That is both unjust and undemocratic. Politics based on ideology is a failed cause. Witness the failed ideologies of the twentieth century. Parties vote in blocks and are now subject to other factors.
Sixthly — and here we come to another dangerous bit — secret foreign policy is easily corruptible. The European Commission regularly gives fines of around one billion euros for illegal cartel activities. ‘Respectable’ US firms and many European ones have had to cough up because they were caught out in illegal activities. If you had a billion euros and wanted to avoid another, what would you do? How do lobbyists work? They try to influence Commission officials, maybe MEPs etc.
However the most effective means to influence policy is to influence either the government minister or the political party the minister belongs to. Then the minister becomes, wittingly or unwittingly, an advocate of an industrial group or labour union or consumer group. Thus democratic control is especially needed to determine what happens inside meetings of ministers. A minister can easily convince or delude him- or herself. He may think that what he is advocating is good for an industry and is good for the country. One American politician, an industrialist appointed Secretary of Defence, said that ‘For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa’. That sort of thinking is shortsighted self deception.
Seventhly, how should foreign policy be composed? Foreign policy should be totally inclusive of all sections of society. Is this possible, critics may ask. Certainly, but only under a supranational democracy. All policy issues must pass through five democratic institutions who should be subject to democratic accountability. Each institution should check the others. A real European foreign policy should be organized in the following fashion. The citizens have to permit a European foreign policy first in one sector. That sector has to be designated for its importance. The Commission in full dialogue with all sections of organized civil society identifies what is the specific guideline that should be promoted as policy. It agrees to an overall framework, whether an Energy Community, a coal and steel community, or a transport community. This has to have the full assent of the all the people. (The weakness of the Lisbon/constitutional Treaty system is that it tries to include all sectors and it does not have popular assent, having ignored the referendums.)
Specific parts of the foreign policy are defined by acts of European law that are democratically agreed upon by the five supranational institutions. For example, one strand could be based on a regulation that identifies the reduction of Carbon or energy use in manufacturing, or forbidding the use of a dangerous product. It might ban a chemical product as dangerous or carcinogenic.The foreign policy would be that no such chemicals should be imported into the EU by foreign firms. It could define methods so that Europeans would not be endangered by imports.
The Community approach requires that principles and values are defined in law. Any citizen, organisation or institution has the right to challenge any violation against these European values in any court of the land.
That is a universe away from the neo-Gaullism that the European Council is trying to promote.