This article was first published in the Morning Star.
The media is full of speculation about the new European president. Probably within a week the way will be open for the new appointment.
Sadly the Irish Yes vote to the Lisbon Treaty leaves only the Czech government with any power in the situation. The Czech Republic has suffered grievously from invasions and clearly values its sovereignty. It has rejected the US missile defence system and its desire for independence in foreign policy may well lead to a rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. But, should President Vaclav Klaus allow the treaty to pass, the door will be opened to a new president of Europe.
The position is a sort of executive head of the government of Europe. He or she is to be “elected” for two-and-half years and would be allowed to seek re-election for a second term. The president is supposed to operate by consensus to ensure “continuity” in European policy-making. Working almost in parallel will be another new position, that of foreign affairs and security representative.
The European Union has always suffered a serious democratic deficit and the new positions would make the situation even worse. For all the talk of the new leader’s “election,” the situation is more akin to the College of Cardinals electing a new Pope. The 25 heads of government will meet and agree by a majority who the new president will be. Thus, 13 heads of government can elect a president for the entire continent. The European Parliament will have no say, national parliaments will have no say and perish the thought that the people should have any say.
The creation of the post of president is a triumph for the tenacity of the European long-sighters. The project has always been to create a huge free-market Europe, with ever-limiting powers for national parliaments and an increasingly powerful common foreign and security policy.The proposed European constitution met a swift end when it was rejected in France by people concerned about the marketisation of Europe and the explicit limiting of the public enterprise role of national governments. But the European council of ministers was undeterred. It set about creating the much more innocuous-sounding Lisbon Treaty.
In reality it is little different from its predecessor. It, too, requires member states to subscribe to a common foreign and defence policy, a European role for NATO and an economic system based on markets with a limited role for the state.
Europe’s social agenda has been under constant threat over the past few decades. The Maastrict Treaty looked to price stability rather than social cohesion as the cornerstone of economic policy. Limiting government borrowing and deficits in the eurozone demonstrates a certain conservative view of the role of the public sector, not to mention a whole host of “liberalisation” methods such as competition in postal services.
Therefore, who the new president is matters a great deal.
David Miliband says we need a president “who stops the traffic in Beijing and all the world’s capitals,” which seems a strange way to approach such a decision. It’s no secret that the man he has in mind is our former PM Tony Blair.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair demonstrated exactly where his priorities were, displaying his contempt for the UN and international law. His decision, taken without any parliamentary consultation, to invite the Bush administration to use Fylingdales and Menwith Hill as part of the US missile defence system showed a contempt for democracy.
Anyone who seriously thinks he should be president of Europe should examine their thinking.
Blair sees things in terms of some self-proclaimed north Atlantic moral superiority in dominating the affairs of the world. The Iraq invasion, its dishonesty and appalling consequences come directly from that kind of perverted logic. Post-Lisbon, the European president and the foreign and security representative will have enormous and largely unaccountable powers.
Tony Benn famously described democracy and accountability to a Labour Party conference by advising us to ask three questions of all leaders:
“From where do you derive your authority? In whose interests to do you deliver it? How do we remove you from office?”
Wise words indeed.