Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A dangerous and deliberate obfuscation

Much of the focus on the changes proposed by the "mandate" has been on headline issues such as the appointment of a full-time president and a "high representative" to act as an EU foreign minister. Perforce, less attention has been given to other changes in what are almost casually referred to as "institutional changes".

These, Blair would have us believe, are simply changes of rules to make the European Union "effective". More specifically, he told us:

This deal gives us a chance to move on, it gives us a chance to concentrate on the issues to do with the economy, organised crime, terrorism, immigration, defence, climate change, the environment, energy, the problems that really concern citizens in Europe. And this is why it was important to get out of this bind into which we had got with the constitutional treaty, to go back to making simple changes in our rules that allow us to operate more effectively now we are in an enlarged European Union, but most of all allow us to work effectively for the betterment of people inside the European Union.
In the manner of the joke about the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto, however, the key to understanding what is going on is to ask, "who's this 'us' paleface?"

To answer this, we look to the European Council "mandate" where, in paragraph 12, we find the dense but superficially anodyne statement that:

The institutional changes agreed in the 2004 IGC will be integrated partly into the TEU and partly into the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. The new Title III will give an overview of the institutional system and will set out the following institutional modifications to the existing system, i.e. the Articles on the Union's institutions …
The reference to the "2004 IGC" is of course the code for the EU constitution and the important modification here is to the "Articles on the Union's institutions".

To find these, we have to go to Article I-19 of the failed constitution where we see the definition of the "institutional framework" and a statement of its aims. These are expressed in terms of the "Union" telling the institutions that their aims are to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

Now, the crucial point here is that the first three of these objectives are entirely new. And, of these, the third is especially important: to: "serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States".

However, this is but a curtain raiser to another short insert in paragraph 12, which states (by way of one of the institutional changes): "the European Council (transformation into an institution…)".

This is of huge significance. Originally set up in 1972 by Jean Monnet, the European Council was presented, during its first meeting under president Pompidou as a "fireside chat" between the heads of states and governments of the then nine members of the EEC.

Indeed, the first meeting was in fact held in Pompidou's private salon, with members lounging in armchairs and even sitting by the fire, but Monnet had far greater ambitions for it. He styled it as nothing less than a "provisional government" of Europe, its task being to steer Europe though the "transition from national to collective sovereignty" (Memoirs, p. 503).

However, as is the way with the incremental development of the European Union, the European Council enjoyed a half-life outside the treaties, acquiring the appellation "summit", and reported almost universally as such by the media, growing from its origins as an informal "fireside chat" to the full-blown monster that it is today.

But, while it remained, in treaty terms, an informal body, it was formally recognised in the Nice Treaty (Article 4) which first defined its role as to "provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development" and to "define the general political guidelines thereof".

Thus, while it was seen as a meeting of heads of states and governments (now assisted by foreign affairs ministers), the inference being that they were representing their respective nations, the European Council was being drawn into the treaty maw. Although not yet a fully-fledged institution, it role was being more clearly defined as a representative body of the European Union.

Now, with this proposed change, the European Council is being defined fully as an institution. Furthermore, its aims have been set out, which it shares with the Commission, the EU Parliament and the European Court of Justice. It now will have developed into Monnet's "provisional government", acting, to all intents and purposes, as the "cabinet" of Europe.

The problem, of course, is that the members are still made up from the heads of state and governments of the member states. But, rather than representing their respective nations, they now act as a corporate body – an institution – the aims of which are, in respect of the Union, to: "promote its values; advance its objectives; serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of Member States; and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".

Crucially, the requirement to serve the interest of the Union comes first, the "citizens" come second and the Member States come third. The order is neither accidental nor without significance. The European Council has to put the Union first. Tony Blair's "us" is the European Union.

Serving the EU is, de facto, what the European Council already does, but this is now to become de jure. That such an important change is tucked into a paragraph of an obscure document which few will read – and fewer will understand – is another of those dangerous and deliberate obfuscations, designed to defeat easy analysis.

It also represents a very significant transfer of power from member states, our leaders having been hijacked and impressed into the service of the Union – all the more dangerous because, as far as the media and the general public is concerned, they are part of an invisible institution, one that will, to them, remain a "summit".


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