22 February, 2010

19. Europe's 'US Ambassador' spat between Council and Commission

An unsightly dispute has broken out about the nomination of the "Ambassador" of the European Union to the United States of America. It is likely to lead to further turf wars between the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Some foreign ministers are annoyed that they were not given a say-so in the nomination.

The new EU representative is the former chief of staff to Commission President Barroso. About a decade ago an earlier dispute between Commissioner Chris Patten (responsible for external relations policy) and Council of Ministers Secretary General Javier Solana became very public. It is not resolved by the Lisbon Treaty fudge. The dispute between the Commission and the Council, dating from de Gaulle's nationalistic attempt to distort and grab the powers of the Council, cannot be resolved by the Lisbon Treaty. Why? Because it tries to do so by the illogicalities of a shared function in two supposedly independent institutions. Baroness Ashton is vice president of the Commission and also at the Council, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Thus the power struggle dating from the 1960s is now continuing at a different more expensive and embarrassing level for all the world to see.

It is not so much about personalities or even about institutions. It is about power politics or a more just, democratic and equitable way to conduct the policies of some 500 million Europeans. It is about two systems: power politics now based on a cartel or Community democracy. At the core is the unresolved question of whether the EU should be a supranational Community system as envisaged by Monnet and Schuman or an intergovernmental system run autocratically by the ministers in a secretive Council -- still with little democratic oversight. This is really warmed-over Gaullism, that is, removing democratic checks and balances. It turns all public posts into party patronage and political nepotism.

For example, the Council decided by itself without any public mandate that the Members of the Commission should all be national representatives and they should all be party members of the main parties. Why make this change? The Council acting not in the public interest but in the interests of their own party members. No elections were held. The public were excluded from what are publicly paid for, public service posts! The more open countries in Europe that wanted to hold elections for these key posts in the European governance system were stopped. Why? because it would make the other governments look like petty dictators. Imagine one country publishing an advertisement for candidates for a Commissioner, nominated by any citizen. Then imagine the public outrage elsewhere when one government allowed 'their' people to vote while other governments refused to do so! The uproar would be worse than refusing referendums or ignoring the results if they were inconvenient.

So governments apply a technique to make appointments quickly before a debate takes place. No one can pretend that it is democratic. It is a party political stitch-up. And a new "External Action Service" could provide even more jobs for party members if the same cartel practices apply. The EEAS has not yet been organized, mainly because of power struggle on the budget control, and these new guidelines.

The new Lisbon Treaty tries to weld two incompatible systems together. De Gaulle wanted to run the show under an autocratic system. The Community system has five independent institutions that make sure that no interest groups can dominate and all citizens have the maximum amount of freedom to arrive at the fairest solution for all.

Popularity of parties is falling continually. So is funding. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, this independence of European institutions is confused so that parties and governments can dominate over the non-political population. A vice-president of the Commission also presides over the Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the 27 Member States (but not other ministers in councils which are presided over by a national rotating presidency).

The nomination for Washington was made by the Commission because it involves a Commission office. Originally such offices were Information Offices of the European Commission but the national governments would like to control and organize them. The European Commission was given specific powers in sectoral Communities such as originally coal and steel, customs, commerce, and atomic matters, but not in other areas of foreign policy and military matters. For the latter, national governments show little inclination to Communitize their resources by placing them under a European supranational authority.

National governments also have their own diplomatic offices. A new 'diplomatic' European External Action Service is still not in place. This is likely to provide a lot of new jobs, while there is no sign that normal national diplomatic posts will decline. Recent surveys show the reverse trend. National populations need national diplomats abroad to lobby for national and regional, even city interests.

The Ambassadorial spat is also a question of glitz over substance. Glitz comes from giving inaccurate or exaggerated titles like Ambassador to high paying posts where the office has different functions from national diplomacy. Substance -- that is what provides the essence of European common policy -- still comes from the supranational Community base (the two remaining communities, the Economic Community and Euratom and the heritage of the first). Only a little is added by other areas such as Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) if the 27 cannot provide a coherent foundation of agreement based on public trust, real democracy, open institutions and the European rule of law. Trust is the principal victim.

The question is really: Do Europeans want a Commission retaining its legal, delegated powers that encourage it to be impartial and independent and to speak for all, including minorities? Or should the Commission become the lap-dog of ministers, acting too often like party politicians rather than Statesmen/ women? If Europeans prefer an impartial, independent Commission to power politics, then the Commission should be encouraged to nominate a competent candidate and the Council should reform itself, then support, encourage and protect the delegated powers they provided in treaties. All institutions must encourage more democratic, open assessment and the European rule of law.

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