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And yet more unhelpful contributions to the Lisbon debate… d’Estaing speaks and speaks. June 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union.
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It’s hardly unreasonable to suggest that in politics it’s more than likely the statements of friends rather than enemies which puts the most pressure on a politician or enterprise.

Think of Michael Lowry and how his fate was effectively sealed by John Bruton’s crie de couer that he was… ‘…my best friend forever’… and as an aside, didn’t Charlie Landsborough have a song using more or less that formulation?

Charles Haughey did Bertie Ahern no favours by asserting that he was the most ‘the best, the most skilful, the most devious and the most cunning’…

And so Brian Cowen might well have reason to be dragging out the voodoo doll of Giscard d’Estaing left over from previous Euro encounters and plunging a knitting needle through it’s torso. For the king over the water of the EU has opined once more, and in such a way as to be most unhelpful to future progress.

Lara Marlowe reported this morning that:

RESTORING AN EU commissioner permanently to member states is simply “non-negotiable” in the aftermath of the Irish No vote on Lisbon, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing maintains.

“It isn’t reasonable. There will be Irish commissioners, but by rotation,” he told The Irish Times in an interview yesterday. The commissioner issue is seen as key by many to making the treaty acceptable to voters in any new ballot. And Mr Giscard, who served as president of the convention that drafted the failed European constitution, angrily denounced as “dishonest” the repeated use of a quotation attributed to him by Irish No campaigners during the Lisbon referendum.

Then he contests the statement put about by many on the No side that he had “boasted that ‘public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals we dare not present to them directly’.”

According to Marlowe…

Mr Giscard’s next, unquoted paragraph, however, makes clear that he regarded such an approach as “unworthy” and likely to “confirm European citizens in the idea that the construction of Europe is organised behind their backs by lawyers and diplomats”.

Still, then he compounds the error by a certain Jesuitical intricacy when he says in interview with Marlowe that:

the passage quoted pertained only to France.

“The French had voted on a first treaty, and there was talk of a new one.

“[The government] wanted to tell them ‘it’s not the same’ when, in reality, the content was the same. So [my] argumentation was for the French. It had no meaning for people who had not voted on the text, like the Irish.”

How helpful. But not the sort of precise clarity that might help to assuage those who take the No position who argue that Lisbon was the same as the Constitution.

And returning to his points about the Commissioner, he just can’t resist shooting off his mouth…

“Everyone decided that there would no longer be permanent commissioners. It’s not negotiable, for anyone,” he said.

“Ireland is 1 per cent of the EU. You’re not going to have your own commissioner. It isn’t reasonable. There will be Irish commissioners, but by rotation.” Asked if the EU was not founded on the basis of unanimity, he responded: “Was founded on the basis of unanimity. We are evolving towards majority voting, because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing.

How very helpful!

“It is impossible to function by unanimity with 27 members. This time it’s Ireland, the next time it will be somebody else.”

Well, yes. That’s the point, isn’t it?

QMV is of course the means to streamline decision making, but it does no good to suggest that unanimity and consensus are past their sell by date. One of the strengths of the EU is that it was founded on precisely those areas.

And I find his blunt statement regarding his rationale for Ireland (and indeed all other members of the EU) shedding a permanent Commissioner to be dubious, not merely as regards the optics, but also the actuality.The 1% issue isn’t relevant to the Commissioner argument nor is this sentiment restricted to Ireland.

But I can’t help but feel that d’Estaing is marching to his own drum on these matters. He is an avowed federalist and as that vision of the future of Europe has become less popular his pronouncements on such matters have taken on a more and more hysterical edge. Indeed, he appears to be the living definition of a man who never saw a microphone he didn’t like, which is not good for him, not good for us and definitely not good for Europe, and not merely because I believe his views are wrong (in that I’m antagonistic to federalism), his interpretation of the direction of Europe is wrong and is also divergent from the views of most in Europe (to the best that can be ascertained), but also because his one man crusade is just that, representative of him and very few others. And yet it feeds directly into a discourse where it becomes a token of what is taken to be a broader view… A little respite from his thoughts would be no harm.

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1. Irish Election » The Lisbon Treaty Blame Game - June 26, 2008

[...] is quite the lineup. Interestingly one of the commenters mention Margret Wallstrom but no place for Giscard, nor Declan [...]

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2. Ciarán - June 26, 2008

If you’re going to talk about the rotating Commissioner issue it might be worth pointing out that this was settled in the Nice Treaty, not Lisbon. Take a look at page 5 of this summary of Nice: “As from the first Commission which will be appointed once the Union reaches 27 Member States, there will be fewer Commissioners than there are Member States. The Commissioners will be selected by a system of rotation that will be fair to all countries.”

What Lisbon aimed to do, and the Irish rejected, was establish a system. Not that Lisbon has failed, it’s up to the Council of Ministers to decide how many Commissioners the EU will have. So it looks like people want to renegotiate Nice, which was ratified, as well as Lisbon.

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3. Ciarán - June 26, 2008

Ooops: that should read “Now that Lisbon has failed…”

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4. WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2008

Ciarán, well, some of us who took the Yes side did point that little contradiction in the Libertas platform, but, as regards your general point that’s brilliant, and doubles the Taoiseach’s headache… Nice as well as Lisbon. I like it. :)

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5. chekov - June 26, 2008

“his one man crusade is just that, representative of him and very few others”

I am staggered that you could think this. His one man crusade included charing the committee that drafted the constitution, a constitution that received the near unanimous support of Europe’s ruling class.

What marks him out from other European politicians is
a) he’s bitter about the shelving of the nation-building aspects of the constitution
b) he will never face an electorate again.

and hence he says the stuff that the rest of them normally don’t say – they just sign.

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6. Hugh Green - June 26, 2008

Can someone explain to me the point of having a permanent commissioner among a group of 27? I voted No, but I couldn’t care less if Ireland has a commissioner for multilingualism or sheep inoculation or whatever.

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7. Claire O'Brien - June 26, 2008

Well we can always fiddle around with numbers and tenure and call it reform of the EU in the name of transparency, efficiency and democracy.

Because neither Nice nor Lisbon deal with reforming and improving the Commission in any meaningful way and that’s a bigger problem than having to find somewhere to accommodate Charlie McCreevy in 2009.

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8. WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2008

chekov, you have to go and look at his actual input into the committee, which as you’ll know had numerous members. Am I saying he had no influence? No. I’m saying his influence has been wildy overstated. And your point about the ‘unanimous support of Europe’s ruling class’, whoever they may be, doesn’t have any relevance to the first part of your sentence and I presume is a rhetorical flourish.

You are correct in your second point but I’d disagree with your interpretation in your final one. Your second point actually points up, not the reasons why he is somehow ‘representative’ of what others really really think, he’s not, but why in serious European foreign policy circles his name is, if not quite mud, certainly not considered of any great significance. He’s an old pol, with singular views which go against the grain of contemporary thinking in European governments, who has been put out to pasture in a high profile way, the chairing of the committee was part of that process.

As for the idea that governments simply ‘sign’ these things with no consideration, not even of their own national interests, I’m presuming you’re joking.

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9. WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2008

Hugh, you raise a very interesting point. The argument, and it’s one that both Libertas and SF share, is that a commissioner protects our national (commercial, mainly) interests. I’m not entirely convinced, and I’ve heard good counterarguments that commissioners tend to go native in the job – in any case considering the bunch of economically liberal types who’ve infested it from Ireland over the years one would wonder.

But then I’d be interested in what others think. Claire, reading your comment I’m presuming you see a necessity for a Commissioner?

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10. Ciarán - June 27, 2008

Thanks WbS. On the point raised in your discussion with Hugh, I would have thought that Commissioners were under an obligation to go native: that is, that they ought work for the Union as a whole.

If Charlie McCreevy is in Brussels fighting the good fight for Ireland then Claire ought to make it her business to see that he gets fired.

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11. V - June 27, 2008

Exactly! Politicos talking about politics is just as boring as a Ironmonger talking about welding and a whole lot more dangerous to boot. Save it for the memoirs Valerie..

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12. chekov - June 27, 2008

“chekov, you have to go and look at his actual input into the committee, which as you’ll know had numerous members. Am I saying he had no influence? No. I’m saying his influence has been wildy overstated. And your point about the ‘unanimous support of Europe’s ruling class’, whoever they may be, doesn’t have any relevance to the first part of your sentence and I presume is a rhetorical flourish.”

The point is, wbs, that the stuff that you are claiming was a solo run by VdE was actually in the text of the constitution, a constitution which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Europe’s major political parties and the overwhelming majority of Europe’s industrialists as expressed through their various representative bodies (ERT, national confederations of businesses, etc). That’s what I mean by Europe’s ruling class. It’s as far from a rhetorical flourish as is possible, VdE “solo-run” was written in the text of a legally binding treaty that they supported. I’m absolutely not suggesting that he had a huge personal involvement in introducing these things – the very opposite in fact.

“Your second point actually points up, not the reasons why he is somehow ‘representative’ of what others really really think, he’s not, but why in serious European foreign policy circles his name is, if not quite mud, certainly not considered of any great significance. He’s an old pol, with singular views which go against the grain of contemporary thinking in European governments, who has been put out to pasture in a high profile way, the chairing of the committee was part of that process.”

His views are quite representative of what Europe’s leaders actually are trying to do, a much more meaningful thing than what they say. Do you really think that they inserted all that stuff about flags and Europe days into the constitution at the behest of an old pol?

It is also not at all true to say that his chairing of the committee on the constitution represented him being put out to pasture. The appointment actually brought him back from pasture – his presidential tenure ended in 1981 and following that defeat he more or less disappeared into obscurity. Elevating him from obscurity was a very strange way of putting him out to pasture.

“As for the idea that governments simply ’sign’ these things with no consideration, not even of their own national interests, I’m presuming you’re joking.”

The idea is yours not mine. Governments obviously take extreme care in signing legally binding stuff – that’s why it’s important to look at what they sign rather than what they say because they say any old thing. The fact that every government in Europe agreed to the text of the constitution illustrates clearly that VdE was most certainly not on a solo run and that he broadly represented their thinking on the direction of Europe. Of course, the retreat of the nation-building aspects and his freedom from elections means that he’s now committing the crime of saying in public what the rest of them would prefer he did not say. That’s why his name is mud.

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13. Gypsy - June 27, 2008

I agree with Cheks on this and said as much a while back. I posted this then, before I left the lounge and went back to being a barstooler. FWIW Vogenhubber might have called him Sócrates but then I was always a bigger Falcão fan.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jun/14/eu.politics

If it wasn’t Giscard leading it, who was it then? I’ve suggested Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG, Secretary-General of the EU Convention under President Giscard d’Estaing. IIRC he’s also a VP of the EPC.

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14. Claire O'Brien - June 27, 2008

WBS wrote ‘But then I’d be interested in what others think. Claire, reading your comment I’m presuming you see a necessity for a Commissioner?’

No – but Charlie will have to go somewhere when he’s tossed out in 2009. Where do unwanted Commissioners go to die?

I do see a necessity for each country to have a representative at the table – whatever table that is – where legislation is proposed. But that shouldn’t be the same as saying I see a necessity for each country to have a commissioner who is responsible for agriculture or competition.

But it would take a very, very unpopular re-think of the old ways of doing things ’round here in t’Commission to bring that about.

There has to be a better, more democratic, more transparent and accountable way for legislation to be proposed than is currently the case.

The problem is not with 27 nations – it’s with the raison d’etre, composition and mandate of the Commission in its current form. I’d rather see it be abolished completely if it can’t be properly reinvented.

Limiting the number of Commissioners is a distraction from the real issues.

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15. WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2008

Cheers Claire… I think what you’re saying makes considerable sense. The idea of a more democratic legitimation of Commissioners, even if once they arrive in the Commission would I think be largely better than worse. How that could be done is an interesting question. And I think your point about national representation where legislation is proposed is a very good point, although i guess the counterargument is that the Council of Ministers has aspects of that role.

I agree, it wouldn’t be popular. But it does shift us towards a more federal system, doesn’t it? As for abolishing them completely, well, as I noted before the counter argument is that there is a necessity for some group to speak up for the EU as an entity. The Council is the nations, the Parliament the peoples (sort of kind of), so that role clearly is pushed onto the Commission. But it seems somehow inadequate, or not fit for purpose.

chekov, it seems to me that you’re shifting the nature of the discussion. I said originally that I didn’t agree that his input was as significant as you seem to suppose. In my opinion his solo run is in the nature of his public comments afterwards, not during. I think that you’re completely overstating his actual influence on the draft Constitution – indeed to this point you haven’t actually referenced anything that was clearly his influence in the final form of the constitution – which was far from that of a federal EU which he seeks to champion (and with all due respect an EU flag, which we have already, an anthem, does not a federal state make. These aren’t even exclusively the trappings of states). And you then imply that far from it being a solo run (I presume in relation to the Constitution) that but that this was actually representative of the views of ‘industry’ etc. I really don’t see how you’re coming to those conclusions from what I’ve said. But worse again, I don’t see any clear supporting evidence. I don’t want to be pedantic about these matters, but you’re simply incorrect to suggest that after 1981 he disappeared into obscurity. From 84 onwards he was a parliamentary Deputy and he was President of the UDF political party in that parliament from the late 1980s into the mid 1990s. He was also instrumental in forcing a referendum on Presidential terms in 2000 which was won. He left the French parliament in 2002, went on to the French Constitutional Council and ran into significant controversy over his partisan pushing of the Treaty. So yes, putting him out to pasture in 2002 as an elder and still active politician in French domestic politics with an interest in EU affairs and onto the convention, is a reasonable way to put it I think…

Regarding the signing: “hence he says the stuff that the rest of them normally don’t say – they just sign”, in fairness the phrase ‘they just sign’, does seem to imply little or no serious consideration and that such material is just waved through on a pro forma basis, but I accept what you’re saying.

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16. Wednesday - June 28, 2008

Of course commissioners are “supposed” to work for the good of the Union and not their individual member state (just as Cabinet members are “supposed” to work for the good of the state and not their individual constituency … heh) but does anybody seriously think they leave their nationality behind? I would suggest that any potential commissioner who made clear to their government their intention to do so would find their name removed from the shortlist immediately. Otherwise, why give each member state a commissioner (albeit on a rotating basis) anyway? There’s something of a contradiction in the Yes argument that on the one hand, commissioners don’t represent their state, and on the other, we’d all still have equal representation under Lisbon. I accept that argument was to some degree tactical, but I’m highly dubious that any state, ours included, would have accepted a deal that didn’t give them access to the commission on the same basis as everyone else.

Though I largely agree with Claire.

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17. WorldbyStorm - June 28, 2008

Well, then is it that more nearly a tactical argument for you :) and you’d sooner see the post abolished…

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18. Wednesday - June 28, 2008

is it that more nearly a tactical argument for you

Yeah it would be, although I never really made it, because I never really cared about it :)

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19. Garibaldy - June 29, 2008

The following statment was agreed and circulated by the Portuguese Communist Party earlier this week:-

COMMON STAND BY COMMUNIST PARTIES AND OTHER LEFT AND
PROGRESSIVE FORCES FROM EUROPE ON THE IRISH ‘NO’ TO THE
LISBON TREATY

The NO victory in Ireland puts an end to the Lisbon Treaty.

This result is of great importance and wide political
significance considering that it was achieved in the
context of huge pressures from the main leaders of the
European Union and constitutes a significant defeat of the
project of intensifying neo-liberalism and militarism in
Europe and of the design, pursued by the governments and
the big economic and financial groups, of a European Union
as a directorate of the great powers.

The communist parties and other left and progressive forces
within the EU salute the working class and the entire Irish
people for their valuable contribution in putting a stop to
the course followed by this Treaty and are overjoyed with
the result, which demands an immediate suspension of the
ratification processes. They also warn that there is no
room for delaying manoeuvres aiming to bypass the rejection
of the Treaty, as in 2005 following the NO victory in
France and in the Netherlands, and denounce the
anti-democratic nature of this whole process.

They express their determination to continue the struggle
for a Europe committed to social justice, to solidarity and
cooperation among peoples and countries, a Europe of peace
among sovereign States, equal in rights.

They further stress their commitment to the developing and
supporting the ongoing important struggles in several
European countries in defence of social and labour rights
and to raising a strong barrier against the neo-liberal
capitalist offensive embodied in the now defeated Treaty.

The Parties:

Left Party in Sweden
Communist Party of Luxembourg
Communist Party of Ireland
Workers Party of Ireland
German Communist Party
Workers Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Britain
Communist Party in Denmark
Communist Party of Spain
Communist Party of Finland
French Communist Party
Communist Party of Greece
New Communist Party of Netherlands
Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party
Party of the Italian Communists
Portuguese Communist Party
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia

Lisbon, June 2008.

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20. WorldbyStorm - June 29, 2008

That’s fair enough Wednesday, Garibald, if you wanted you could have lashed that in and I’d put it up as a post for you…

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21. Garibaldy - June 29, 2008

Cheers WBS. Never thought that it might make a post. I’ll bear it in mind for future statements as there was stuff during the campaign in a similar vein. Do you know solidnet? Lots of international stuff there.

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22. WorldbyStorm - June 29, 2008

Anything makes a post! And as I said before, the CLR has had something of a pro-Lisbon tinge, which is fine as far as it goes, but people have completely different views and they should be represented.

I do now, Cheers, re solidnet…

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23. Claire O'Brien - June 29, 2008

Margot Wallstrom spoke at the Forum on Europe before the referendum and made a number of interesting points.

Firstly, she said that in the negotiations leading up to the formulation of the treaty, there was great, even enormous disagreement among nations as to how the Commission would be composed with 27+ states in the EU.

She also pointed out that in her view, the compromise reached had the disadvantage of not being seen to be democratically legitimate in the context of a union of member states where each one has an equal role – regardless of whether it is legitimate or not as far as officials and politicians are concerned.

Rather bizarrely I thought at the time, she also made the point that some of the larger nations were only starting to realise – at the end of February – what the loss of a Commissioner on a rotational basis might mean for them.

Dick Roche, as we all know, fought to keep the current system.

Losing a commissioner for one five year term out of three is not a solution to the problem of the unhappy marriage of roles which characterise the Commission’s remit, because the problems are with the inherent conflict of interest. We cannot expect the individuals who act as, for want of a better term, glorified civil servants representing their departments in an avowedly non-political way to carry at the same time the mantle of proposing legislation, which democratic peoples in general expect their elected representatives to do on their behalf.

While this might have been a tidy proposal when the EU /EEC was in its infancy, surely this structure has been outgrown and needs to be dismantled and rebuilt in a manner that meets the needs of the people as well as the institutions. (Bearing in mind that in earlier days, bigger countries had 2 Commissioners…)

Until the Commission is no longer an elite bunch, it will be considered to be an elite bunch and that perception of elitism, if we’re naive enough to believe that it is merely a perception, is immensely damaging to the credibility of the EU.

Rotating the Commissioners is a nice solution, but it’s a solution to a different problem than that which urgently needs to be addressed.

If we are asked to vote a second time, elements of the No side who successfully played on public ignorance of the role of the Commissioner and/or public discomfort at the anachronistic and fundamentally indefensible nature of the Commission will find that the balls that they’ll be firing in Round Two have already been made for them by others.

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24. CL - June 30, 2008

The No vote “constitutes a significant defeat of the project of intensifying neo-liberalism”-from statement of Portuguese Communist Party (above)

“My basic point is that the Lisbon Treaty adds nothing to the existing state of neo-liberal policies in the EU.”-John Palmer,- (‘It takes a village idiot’ thread.)

Clearly the Lisbon Treaty cannot involve ‘intensifying neo-liberalism’ and also add ‘nothing to the existing state of neo-liberal policies in the EU.”

Can an empirical investigation reveal which statement is correct, or is it just a matter of interpretation?

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25. WorldbyStorm - June 30, 2008

Walstrom is well known as being against the loss of Commissioners. I’d entirely agree with you Claire that it is necessary to detach the functions of proposers and = agan for want of a better term – guardians. I think the elitism problem is that although proposed by national governments, who have the authority/democratic mandate to do so, in such a specific context it just seems wrong that Commissioners whose role is so central are appointed without any recourse.

I wonder though about a second referendum and how the Commissioner issue would play out. It might be that that particular ammunition was fired too soon in Lisbon 1.

CL, not sure that one can. It seems to me that it really is a matter of interpretation and/or bias. It’s like labour law (actually all law now I think of it). Gains may sometimes appear in practice to be reverses or vice versa.

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