The neo-Gaullist ‘Brussels system’, with its decisions made in private, is at the heart of British frustrations, writes David Heilbron Price.
David Heibron Price is a Brussels-based writer and journalist, and editor of the Schuman Project.
“Damage Control” That is the first priority in the EU’s guidelines. The terms for the negotiations on Brexit were announced in Malta on 30 March by European Council President Donald Tusk and everyone is damaged.
That on the face of it seems an extraordinary negative reaction to what apparently the British people have decided. So where’s the joy?
On receiving the six page letter from UK Prime Minister Theresa May on 29 March, Tusk said: “There is no reason to suppose that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels, nor in London.”
Where does this sadness come from?
It is difficult on either side of the Channel to find a rational explanation. What are the British going to gain by Brexit?
The British government or even the British pro-Brexiteers have not yet produced a list of the enormous assets they have found in their utopian Brexit Land. Others say it is a Dream Land.
What has been exposed before negotiations start is a list of commitments that must be paid for, a legal jungle for transposing European legislation into British law, a paucity of real trading alternatives and above all an absence of any real plan by the Brexiteer ministers for the future.
What is the healthy path for the future? It is neither Whitehall’s bumbling obstinacy of extreme exitism, or Brussels opaque politics of closed doors and secrecy.
The clue is in the phrase of Mrs May:
“The values we share as fellow Europeans”
What are they? Do they have their core in trade and merchandising? Are the main European values centred in enrichment and profits like the long-gone societies of Carthage and Tyre?
Clearly not. Europeans boast first of all about their freedoms. Freedom to trade is some way down the list after:
- Freedom of thought;
- Freedom of expression;
- Freedom of Assembly and other;
- Freedoms such as owning property.
Without freedom to own property there can be no freedom to manufacture or trade.
It is also clear that some of these European values are lacking on both sides of the Channel.
Firstly, look how the British voted. In the 1975 Referendum they voted enthusiastically to join the European Community. Recently they voted again tepidly in the 23 June 2016 referendum to leave the system now changed into a “European Union”. That is not the same as a democratic Community.
They sensed their freedoms were being violated. Which freedoms? Freedom to trade? No. They wanted to be free of two areas of autocracy. Geographic areas.
However painful it is to say it, these two culprits are Whitehall and Brussels.
British governments had behaved disgracefully. The political parties of various hues had colluded in changing the treaties against public opinion. They promised the public referendums at each of the many stages. They refused to deliver on all subsequent occasions.
This 23 June referendum was not about the treaty change. It was a referendum about exasperation.
Britons expressed a growing sense of frustration at their governments, both Labour and Conservative.
The promised referendums at each stage never came – from the early deformations of Maastricht to that of the totally unacceptable “Constitutional Treaty“ of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Then they were forced to swallow the same unacceptable, rejected treaty under the name of the Lisbon Treaty.
Brussels should not be smug about this. The Brussels “System” is the source of these frustrations. The British and other seemingly democratic countries were seduced by the neo-Gaullist system in Brussels. Public decisions are taken in private, in secret and with the collusion of what De Gaulle hoped but never achieved.
This first additional anti-democratic instrument is the European Commission turned into a political Secretariat. De Gaulle tried to do this in 1961. The scheme was called the Fouchet Plan. It was resisted by strong democrats like Joseph Luns of the Netherlands and Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium.
They exposed the folly of a sort of Politburo secretariat, supposedly based on international cooperation, but in reality dominated by France and Germany against the smaller powers. They insisted that the Commission be impartial, non political and follow supranational role as an Honest Broker for all European citizens and interests.
The second is the European Council, what De Gaulle called the summit. It was at the summit where De Gaulle sat as the only head of state and autocratically directed everything from its peak.
De Gaulle’s interests were not Europe’s interests. Nor were they even France’s interests. He was opposed ferociously by European-minded Frenchmen and women.
Party interests are not European interests. The interests of 28 governments meeting in secret are not European interests. They are governmental interests. Europe comprises the interests of citizens and associations of citizens. (Associations are not usually party political. And then there are the interests of individual citizens.
The job of the Commission and the institutions is to conciliate all these interests, honestly. That is why the Community has five institutions.
Community Europe has been blocked. Instead Europe is dominated by De Gaulle’s second invention, the Summit. The meetings of the heads of government keep secret what has been going on behind closed doors.
They have a flock of spokespeople who spin the decisions to the frustration and growing distrust of the public. Witness the discordant parties springing up across Europe. UKIP was just one of these but sprang from the democratically fertile soil of Britain. Brexiteers populate the main government parties too.
It would save much money on the European budget if all these Council spokespeople were eliminated. How? Simply introduce video cameras into all these institutions. Illegal or intrusive? No. The treaties require it.
“Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies shall conduct their work as openly as possible.” Lisbon TFEU article 15.
That way Brussels and Whitehall could trade political dishonesty for honesty. They would rebuild trust in Democracy among Europe’s saddened citizens.