Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spot the similarities

What do these two trans-national organisations – the European Union and the United Nations – have in common?

Well, it would appear that if you are a whistleblower in the European Union, you get fired. And if you are a whistleblower in the United Nations? Oh… you get fired.

That is the thrust of the story recounted by Philip Sherwell in today's Sunday Telegraph, headed: "The man who tried to blow the whistle on the UN oil-for-food scandal".

The story is about 39-year-old Pakistani-American Rehan Mullick who, for four months in late 2002, repeatedly tried to explain to high-ranking officials at the United Nations how Saddam Hussein had infiltrated and manipulated the $65 billion oil-for-food programme with the collusion of UN staff. No one would listen and two years later he finally received a response - he was fired.

In the Sunday Times, the UN also gets a bashing, but the story is different, focusing on "'Cover-up' row on report clearing Annan", something on which my colleague commented.

Says The Sunday Times, a report that "exonerated" Kofi Annan of knowing about his son's alleged links to the Iraqi oil for food affair has been called into question by a key witness, Pierre Mouselli, a French former business partner of Annan's son Kojo. Documents seen by paper show that the witness's evidence was downgraded in the report on the eve of publication by the committee charged with investigating Annan’s role.

Here, there is another similarity between the UN and EU and it is Anne Applebaum, in the Sunday Telegraph, who provides the clue.

In a comment piece on the UN, she points out that, "because it is accountable to no one, such an international organisation is never going to be good at managing large, long-term projects involving a lot of money, such as the oil-for-food programme."

"Because it is not beholden to a democratic government," she continues, "it will never be the right choice for a major military operation. However comforting, consensual and 'international' it may sound, a decision to 'send in the United Nations" is never going to be the complete solution to any problem.'"

Does that not sound like the EU? "Accountable to no one… not beholden to a democratic government"? Once again, though, Helen got there first.

Accountability, though, is the key word. And, oddly enough, this is the theme of the Booker column today, in a piece that for once eschews comment on the EU to recount how: "HM Customs is a force 'above the law'".

What Booker describes is horrific, but the broader issue is how a government can go completely off the rails and, to press, seems accountable to no one, despite the appalling injustice occasioned by its officials.

This perhaps underlines a point that many would not expect me to make – that the EU is not the fount of all evil. Our own government – and its agencies - is just as capable of acting in a manner redolent of the worst behaviour of the tranzies, demonstrating that the EU is only part of the problem.

However, there may be a greater similarity here, in that we are seeing throughout the West many instances of where governments – democratic in name – are ceasing to function in many respects like democracies. There is a thought that stems from this that the EU is not so much the problem but a symptom of a larger problem, where the very idea of democracy has gone off the rails.

One thing for sure, though, while the problems in the different structures may have their similarities, the solution is not more of the same.

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