EU turning 60 in 2017? Fake news!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Robert Schuman reads the Europe Declaration, on 18 April 1951, the real birthday of the European Union. [European Union]

In its first announcement of this year, the European Commission has started with patently obvious fake news, writes David Heilbron Price.

David Heibron Price is a Brussels-based writer and journalist, and editor of the Schuman Project.

The European Commission chief spokesman announced that “This year, 2017, the EU is becoming 60 years old.” And to be sure that everyone understood, he repeated:

“The European project is turning 60 this year with birthday celebrations being scheduled for Rome in March.”

Wrong! March will not be the 60th anniversary of the European Union. The EU was formulated by the Treaty of Maastricht 1993.

Wrong Again! The birthday of the European project, after the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950, was the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 18 April 1951. Schuman read out the Great Charter of the Community that they all signed.

The documents the governments signed declared that on 18 April 1951 they were creating a European Community and specifically a European Economic Community. The basis for its governance was supranational democracy.

The first sectors involved in this great European experiment in democracy were coal and steel. The European Community of Coal and Steel began to function in August 1952.

Are all today’s European officials and 28 governments so mathematically challenged?

How does the Commission explain this preoccupation with 1957? The spokesman said:

“First of all we like the Treaty of Rome, because it was the treaty establishing the European Community that preceded the European Union. We like the Treaty of Rome because it was signed on the 25 March, which is also the Greek national day which is also difficult to forget for some of us. But also we like the Treaty of Rome because it is a milestone that enabled the six signatory member states to trigger a level of cooperation through common policies that was unprecedented and was not enshrined in law before the Treaty of Rome. So we use the 25 March 1957 as the formal departure, if you like, of this fantastic historical experiment of the European Union. And I thought it was adequate on a day like that to make this point.” He said nothing about supranational democracy and how it works. How should it work?

On 18 April 1951, the six governments initiated the European Community’s five democratic institutions.

The six also signed what Schuman called the “Charter of the Community.” That title recalls the Magna Carta of British history. It emphasizes its importance.

Why is it important? Because it describes entry and exit conditions. It emphasizes the concept of supranational Community. (‘Supranational’ also appears for the first time in an international treaty in the ECSC article 9 to describe the High Authority, later called the European Commission.)

A supranational Community was also something totally new in history. It was neither confederal (like NATO) nor federal like the Federal Republic of Germany or USA. Only one institution was given federal powers and that was controlled by a European Court of Justice and a Consultative Committee composed of equal membership of entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers.

The second reason that the Charter is important is that it defines which states can become members of any Community. The states have to be among those whose people ‘are free to choose’. That ruled out the states – the so-called People’s Democratic Republics – of the Soviet Bloc.

They were invited to join. In fact, Schuman said that Russia itself was free to join. The condition meant that the states had to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe.

In practice, that meant the state could not abuse any citizen against his conscience. The state had to provide freedom of information, religion and of assembly. If any citizen had a complaint against the state, he or she could take it freely to the national courts and if this did not work out, an appeal could be made to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was a hard pill for governments ruled by a Politburo to swallow. So none of them applied.

The first Community also initiated the Single Market. Single markets for coal, scrap iron and steel were opened across the Community in 1953. This broke the national barriers that led to nationalistic competition, which in turn led to wars.

With the Single Market came the right of workers to move freely around the Community. The Community budget paid for housing projects in the coal and steel industries – which were lacking after the War. It also paid for retraining of workers when inevitably worn-out mines were closed. This ingenious system helped consumers have access to the cheapest coal and steel products while the workers and firms could redeploy. It fulfilled the promise made by Robert Schuman when he made an explanatory statement about the Community project on 10 August 1950 in the Council of Europe.

“Its only preoccupation must be the improving of the productivity of the industry and the rising of the standard of living. … In no case will workers’ standards be lowered. This is an absolute rule that we laid down among our basic principles from the first.”

The budget was paid for by a levy on coal and steel products, up to a maximum of one per cent. There was no Court of Auditors. None was needed. The enterprises were very careful about the contributions they had to pay, the workers too watched carefully over their budget for their social requirements. Consumers made sure that money was not wasted.

That one percent levy seemed a small price to pay for stable employment and increased, cheaper production. Nevertheless, to the surprise of many, the Treaty of Paris, which unlike the treaties of Rome, had a duration of fifty years, was not renewed in 2002. Lobbying by steel firms may have something to do with it. There was no referendum in member states. The matter was decided in the Council of Ministers, which had kept its doors shut and the public and press out during the Gaullist period.

Shortly afterward, the prices of steel rose sharply. Firms were bought by foreign investors. Many workers were thrown out of work.

In 2016 the EU apparently “forgot” to celebrate the 65th birthday of European democracy. What is their substitute?

Europe of 1957, then entering the Gaullist Dark Ages for European democracy, in no way compares with the founding democratic principles of Europe’s true birthday of the first European Community in 1951.

The Charter of the Community – which guaranteed the voice of the public and especially the workers and consumers — was buried by Gaullists in the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was again identified and published in 2012 thanks to M. Bernard Cazeneuve, the present French prime minister, following a request by the Schuman Project.

Will the European Commission maintain its ‘Fake News’ and its mathematically challenged “birthday” to March this year?  Or will we have politically effective and scientifically correct democracy?

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