Tuesday, August 02, 2005
The EU: Towards a "social Europe"
Beware the Secret Heart of the EU
by Ashley Mote
The EU’s mindset is committed to the French vision of a social Europe. The catastrophic economic consequences over decades is largely ignored. Double-digit unemployment and sluggish growth is blamed on anglo-saxon market forces.
Amongst the political elite in Brussels, the fight over the constitution was about securing a social Europe. It was about entrenching control, not liberating enterprise.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has publicly sided with the creation of an enterprise Europe. He realises that only by fundamental change can the EU's discredited Lisbon agenda be revived and a thriving knowledge-based economy achieved.
But the truth is - and he knows it - the incumbent bureaucracy is too strong, too deep-rooted, and too committed to a social Europe. They know, and he knows, that they will still be there long after he is gone.
We all know the EU is run by bureaucrats. But that’s only the half of it. We all know the EU was created by European politicians 50 years ago. But that’s only the half of it. We all hope the European Parliament has injected a degree of democratic accountability. But that’s not even the half of it.
Facts coming to light in recent weeks paint a picture far worse. None of us knew the half of it.
Peter Le Cheminant wrote to The Daily Telegraph at the beginning of June 2005.
He said: “As a young and junior civil servant I had a ringside seat at the birth of the EEC. France and Germany had senior civil servants of high calibre with no small opinion of their own abilities. Both [countries] had lost a war, as they saw it, through the stupidity of their political masters.
“Small wonder then that they should have devised structures that gave real power to themselves, and minimised the roles of the member states. Their underlying doctrine was that democracy was all very well, but only officials were intelligent enough to control the levers of power.”
Mr Le Cheminant has done us a great service. His letter is of huge importance, and confirms what has long been suspected. The very structures of the EU were created to ensure that the electorates and their elected politicians did not have their hands on the levers of power.
Since then a succession of new treaties has further consolidated power in the hands of officials. Today, the EU is a unitary system of government, not only run by anonymous officials, but also controlled by them as well. There is a difference, and it is crucial.
Even the EU's public face - the unelected commission - is part of the charade. Power does not lie with them. It lies with the senior staff running their departments, entrenched by some 3000 working groups and committees on which no elected MEP sits. Indeed, until recently, the very existence of this mountainous bureaucratic support structure was almost unknown.
Intense questioning has revealed that more than half of these internal working groups and committees are active at any one time. Their membership is largely, if not entirely, made up of civil servants from member states and invited ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ from the subject areas being considered for more regulation.
How else could the EU become so involved in the minutiae of everyday life in 25 member states? How else could they get so much wrong so often? On reflection, it was obvious. But now we have the evidence – and even more evidence of their secrecy.
Despite being elected MEPs, those of us investigating the internal workings of EU bureaucracy have been denied access to the lists of members of these groups, with one exception. Only one agenda has come to light. Once we started asking probing questions the shutters came down.
We cannot clarify the functions of these working groups and committees. We do not know who sits on them. We cannot see their agendas. We do not know what decisions they have taken, nor on what grounds. We do not know what their budgets are, how they are financed, or who approves their costs.
Indeed, we do not even know what powers they have been given, nor by whom. And we cannot get rid of them.
But one conclusion is certain. This is where the real power lies. Here is the beating heart of the European Union. Not just obscured, it has been carefully constructed to operate in secret.
We have arrived at the worst of all possible situations. The idea of a European superstate is now being rejected by electorates allowed a vote. Yet we are in serious danger of being left with the structures and methods to govern it. Without upheaval, the stranglehold remains.
This consequence of past treaties, and now the discredited EU constitution, are clear. Strip away the thousands of words and the real purpose of the constitution is obvious. The EU would no longer be the servant of the member states. It would have become their master.
Every previous treaty was a small step along that road. Europe has a long history of failed attempts to unite it. Each has ended in disaster of one kind or another. Each has produced some form of political or military ruination – sometimes both.
Considerable courage and wisdom is needed to avoid another such outcome. Rejection of the constitution has thrown up a new web of conflicting interests and pressures. But they are unlikely to stop the EU’s well-developed, rigid and clandestine system of government by bureaucrats blindly moving us towards serious trouble.
President Barroso, former prime minister of Portugal and head of the commission, is charged with defending the EU in public, and articulating its plans. But he is not fully in control. He is no elected prime minister, not just in terms of legitimacy, but also in terms of decision-making.
The other 24 commissioners, each appointed by the other member states, are not his cabinet in any sense that the British might understand. Like Barroso, they are figure-heads. They take the flak in the public arena, and make announcements decided for them by their senior staff, with the guidance of the secret committees.
Of course there will have been endless discussions, arguments and disputes before each decision. But all behind closed doors.
Professional civil servants, especially ‘les enarques’ from that unique French institution L’Ecole Nationale d’Administration, cannot be under-estimated in such an environment. They have careers and the system itself to protect. Such considerations always come first.
These people are greatly skilled in the black arts of manipulating politicians to get what they want, even if that means hanging their minister out to dry in public if he proves uncontrollable.
Of course, officially above the commission sits a Council of Ministers, made up of ministers from member states. It meets from time to time, theoretically to determine policy. But the council is just more of the same elaborate illusion of accountable government.
Ministers regularly sign agreements on arrival at a meeting, confirming decisions they have supposedly come to make!
The European Parliament sits below this vast superstructure, even less of an obstacle to manipulative bureaucrats. It may be the EU’s only elected institution, but it is nothing more than an elaborate and expensive fig-leaf, designed to create an illusion of accountable democracy. A condescending pat on the head for voters held in contempt.
The EU parliament holds no proper debates. Members are told when they can speak, and for how long. Backbenchers rarely have more than a minute, rarely more than once in a four-day sitting, and never to a crowded chamber. Backbenchers’ opinions are of little account.
The parliament can neither initiate nor repeal legislation. It has direct control over neither the collection nor allocation of public funds. The most it can do is make proposals to the commission and try to amend legislation put before it. Usually that just means slowing it down. Anything rejected will return in a slightly different form later.
Such as it is, the EU’s parliament has a built-in majority in favour of the social market. It is the repository of an unspoken agreement between the left and the multinationals. This ‘understanding’ appears to have the backing of the bureaucratic elite, not least because it reflects the French method of supporting national business interests in a social market economy.
In effect, the left has said to the multinationals: you can have your markets stitched up for you, if we can indulge ourselves in endless social engineering. Big business has agreed. The result is a largely supportive parliament both from the left and right of the political divide.
In such an environment the endless cataract of EU legislation can be no surprise. A week of committee meetings and a week of parliamentary plenary sessions are allocated for every month except August. It is assumed all that time will be filled with discussion and voting on new legislation.
Basic questions about necessity and cost never arise. Eventually, of course, the EU will have legislated itself to a standstill.
So if the parliament is a charade, why is it so well attended? In a word - money. If an MEP fails to push his electronic buttons during more than 50% of the votes, his allowances are cut. No wonder MEPs have been described as little more than a highly paid monkeys pressing buttons for bananas.
In one-hour sessions, which always precede lunch, hundreds of votes are taken at breakneck speed on long lists of resolutions and amendments. The purpose is to give democratic legitimacy to what passes for law in the European Union. Voting is so fast MEPs read the papers next day to understand what they decided, and to find out how the commission is interpreting the results.
This torrent of new law feeds the once ‘obedient’ civil servants back in Britain. They are having the time of their life, enforcing millions of words of regulations and directives from Brussels. Of course they enthuse about the EU. It has – much to their satisfaction – effectively given them a bureaucrats’ charter.
Two pages of EU regulation quickly become 20 pages of detailed enforcement – the so-called ‘gold-plating’ syndrome, unique to the UK.
And if there’s trouble, the government minister concerned merely shrugs his shoulders and blames Brussels.
This huge explosion in the bureaucratic enforcement of EU regulations has created a dangerous detachment of the law-making process from accountable government in Britain. It has also highlighted fundamentally different attitudes to the rule of law in the UK and the rest of the EU.
In the past, the British generally upheld and respected the rule of law, at least in part because we knew we could change it at any time. With very few exceptions, a new government could repeal or amend any UK law immediately it took office.
But in the EU, and many continental countries, there is much less respect for the law because it can be difficult to change. Civil servants are in control, and they hate change. Little wonder, then, that ordinary people on the continent tend to ignore laws they don’t like, rather than seek change.
The EU is beyond salvaging. It should be put out of its misery, or left to those countries that wish to conduct their affairs in this way.
Footnote: Ashley Mote was elected to the European Parliament in June 2004. He is one of ten MEPs elected from the South-East of England region. He sits in the parliament as an independent and has seats on the Constitutional Affairs and Budget Control Committees. Ashley Mote, firstname.lastname@example.org