Crossick remembered for passionate commitment to EU integration

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EURACTIV is republishing this interview in memory of Stanley Crossick, political analyst, doyen of EU integration and founding chairman of the European Policy Centre, who sadly passed away on 20 November. It is up to member states, not Brussels, to inform citizens about the benefits of the EU and prevent them from being deceived, Stanley told EURACTIV in his last interview in October.

Stanley Crossick was founding chairman of the European Policy Centre and a senior fellow at the Brussels Institute for Contemporary China Studies.

Tributes to Stanley continue to flow in to his blog on Blogactiv, to which he contributed over 500 posts. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

You describe European integration as being the main motivation for your work, much like it was for Jean Monnet. In what ways is his vision relevant to today?

I'm a declared Monnet disciple. He is surprisingly overlooked as an important figure as he tends to be totally related to what people may call European federalism or the building of the United States of Europe.

Monnet was a very modest man, with the appearance of a Van Rompuy in fact. He had a most remarkable career. One of the reasons for his success is that he never wished to run for political office. He was director for the rebuilding plan in France (after WW2) and was the first president of the Commission if you like, but was never a threat to anybody – "people divide into those who want to be somebody and those who want to do something," he would say.

In his methodology, I think what is interesting is that he saw during the war that reconciliation between France and Germany was an absolute and his approach was one based on equality, never on sitting on opposite sides of the table. The idea was to find the common interest and then see that a common problem required a common solution.

We Anglo Saxons tend to attack problems for hours on end in meetings. That was not Monnet's method – he would have relatively short meetings, letting people break off to do their thing and with the principle that nothing said is stupid. He did not want ideas to wait to be developed in order to be presented. He also learnt from a quotation from a Saudi Arabian king that 'everything in life is means, including problems'.

Therefore, when faced with a problem he didn't worry about getting around it, but thought of how to take advantage of it. He was always thinking a long way ahead.

You have been greatly involved in relations with China. What has hampered dialogue between China and the EU up until now?

Most of the time, the problem with China is not what you say but how you say it. I go to the party schools and am very critical. But if they think you are a friend of China's and they trust you, everything can be up for discussion. We talk about even the most delicate problems, such as the questions of political reform and press freedom. If you read any of my blogs on China that could be described as critical, they wouldn't be offensive from the Chinese point of view.

I first got involved with China when Chris Patten became commissioner for external relations and a Chinese ambassador asked me for help when Beijing and Patten didn't see eye-to-eye. I realise that one of the big problems in our relationship with the Chinese is the contact – talking informally and easily.

We have dozens of meetings and dialogues at all political levels but they are all set pieces with the two sides taking their positions, having an exchange and then going away for a few months. That's not working together. The Monnet method is totally different.

I had been talking to the Chinese ambassador about Monnet. I had written a joint article with a Chinese scholar on the commonality between Confucius and Monnet – we found it in the word 'mutuality'.

I was then invited in 2008 to talk to the entire Chinese mission to the EU on whether today's EU is a Monnet-type community. I had been intending to write a pamphlet on the Monnet method of thinking, which was even translated into Chinese. It is saying how Monnet can influence the EU-China relationship and the Chinese mission are publishing and distributing it at their cost.

How can the EU gain greater influence in its relationship with China?

It is about messages to influence China without putting pressure on them but leading them down the path we want to go. Before we go anywhere, we have to understand how they see the problem and its context.

There is a tendency for ministers and commissioners to fly into Beijing, read their briefing during the journey and go to the embassy or mission for a discussion and then leave. They don't actually set foot in China and the chemistry of the people there is often overlooked.

Before the 17th major party conference, for several weeks there was a furious discussion amongst academics on democracy and how far China should become democratic. They were quoting the Scandinavian model and so forth. Recently, the Chinese leaders said that "unless we democratise we are in trouble". This is not starting from the European model but within the culture of China. One of the serving generals made a speech recently about the need for greater democracy.

Isn't freedom of speech a stumbling block?

If you are sitting in a restaurant in China, no-one lowers their voice if they say something that is not the right thing; it's not that kind of society. It's a much more open society than you realise. The problem is that the party's aim is to stay in power, which is quite normal. Therefore its action with regard to blocking the Internet must be seen as just that, as the Internet and blogging and text messaging are only controllable up to a certain point, particularly text messaging.

The Chinese public once ran a boycott against Carrefour and over a million messages were passed within one day. The government then stepped in and said "stop it, you are criticising a company when 95% of what it sells is made in China". They have realised that their Achilles heel is the Internet and mass communication.

You recently wrote your 500th blog. Why is the EU failing to communicate its benefits to citizens?

The public are being deceived. They believe that their governments have control over the country. If they are in the euro area in particular, a high percentage of laws originate in Brussels but the public aren't told this. They are told that it's Brussels when the government doesn't like it and that it's the government when they do. 

The institutions of the Community have failed to sell themselves. One of the problems, certainly with regard to the Commission, is that in a major company the person responsible for communication is sitting at the Board table. You don't make a decision handed to the communicators in order to do a press release – you want a communicator present, because the way the deal is structured influences the way you can sell it. So, we are totally unprofessional in our communication.

With all due respect to President Barroso, Commissioner Reding's idea that he should be surrounded 24/7 by cameramen making him the voice of Europe… Europe has many voices – it wants lots of clear simple messages repeated over and over again.

How relevant do you think member states view the EU in tackling the financial and economic crisis?

If you take the present financial and economic crisis and the problems with the euro, no-one is explaining how much worse things would have been if we didn't have the euro. No-one is explaining what influence the mainly-united Europe had that it wouldn't have had with lots of individual voices.

The EU is highly relevant; the problem is that we now take it for granted. It is very boring to say that the EU brought 50 years of peace, security and prosperity. That doesn't make news, but 50 years of bickering does.

At the mundane level, we take crossing frontiers for granted – but how difficult did it used to be to travel, or for a student to spend some time in another country? All that has changed. If you go on the floor of the US Senate, you will see Californians and Texans fighting each other just as much as on the European Parliament, only that it involves states.

One of our difficulties in Europe is that there is no really good public policy debate underpinning EU decision-making. Our think-tanks and scholars are all about research, research – it's too academic. There has got to be proper research, but academics don't write in a form that's going to influence. Influence is all about finding the right message in the right form to the right people at the right time.

Do you see the EU following the Community method more in the future?

We have to recognise that the arguments about Community method and intergovernmentalism are really arguments of the past, because the answer is that it is neither one nor another. Intergovernmentalism has its place- you can't Communitarise foreign policy, for example.

The worry was that by having a permanent head of the European Council, the member states would take over and the European Commission would lose out.

In fact, of course, Van Rompuy's view of Europe is integrational, so he would not wish for that. He wants to achieve coherence and put it all together – he is opposed to all these silly 'scrummage' summits and is in favour of regular meetings so that summits don't become events. He gets the leaders to work together. He is relatively experienced, and, as is a natural capacity for a Belgian, is an excellent compromiser.

We have to remember that this is a very, very intelligent man who is not causing any ripples – the European Council is with him. The relationship with Catherine Ashton (the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since the creation of her post on 1 December 2009) and President Barroso is potentially very dangerous regarding the clashing of egos, but he doesn't play that role. He doesn't seek to be 'first fiddle', so to speak. He has only been there for nine months but is already building a kind of integration that is modern and would take us towards the next stages – I am very positive towards him.

How concerned are you by rising Euroscepticism? The most recent Eurobarometer survey shows only 42% Europeans saying they trust the EU, whilst knowledge of its policies is also low…

Not being interested in Europe should not necessarily be taken as being bad news because the public in many countries are not interested in the EU's policies. Take Belgium – you have a situation where a country could break up, but until recently we have seen no demonstrations because it's a fight between politicians.

As far as voters are concerned, they are all in for the take. It's the same for Italy- are voters interested in politics or in who Berlusconi is apparently sleeping with? We must be clear – not being interested can be a good thing providing it's for positive reasons.

You have a very small percentage of Eurosceptics, although this is larger in the UK. They are not complaining about overspending but rather don't like the whole thing. It's easier to argue against the EU than for it. For example, if I say that Brussels insists that bananas must be straight, this becomes the story even though it is wrong. It is so easy to point a finger at politicians in general.

The problem is not the EU, it's the member states. We have 27 of them and in most of them the government is unpopular. So if they come to Brussels to make decisions, they will also be unpopular. People don't realise that Brussels is a meeting place for some of the most powerful people.

The decisions of the Council of Ministers may be taken in Brussels, but they are made by national ministers. None of this is understood. We've had 50 years of totally failed communication and seem not to have learnt any lessons. What we are seeing is greater transparency – much more being published – but the problem is that too much information can lead to insufficient communication as you get bogged down in it all.

Europe is highly relevant every day to all of its 500 million citizens. They don't realise it but it's no fault of theirs – they're not told. I'm afraid that the biggest single failure is to sell Europe. The main fault rests with the member states' leaders – they've got to be the ones selling Europe, not Brussels.

How much faith do you have in Van Rompuy's role as president of the European Council?

Remember that (before his 1985 nomination) Jacques Delors was not the first candidate for the presidency of the Commission, it was the French foreign minister; but Mrs Thatcher totally disliked him and his socialist ideas.

Because of Delors' strict financial control when he became a minister after Mitterrand had screwed things up a bit, Thatcher thought that he was 'one of us,' and he became appointed. She appointed Lord Cockfield – who was a total Englishman – as internal market commissioner to stop all this nonsense in Brussels. Put them together and you have Mitterrand and Kohl and away you go.

I think that Van Rompuy was appointed because the member states didn't want their egos interfered with. He is unusual; he doesn't seem to have one. If you look at him, in particular on television, he comes over as a nobody.

However, he recently gave a speech to the Young European Movement and instead of giving a long, prepared speech he said he would just talk for 15 minutes and he spoke absolutely clearly about how he saw the Union and its development.

His English was virtually perfect and he has a rather nice sense of humour. In answering questions, I have never heard anyone so thorough in answering every part of every question.

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