The recent Spinelli Forum of 25 March in Brussels bore the catchy title “The European Federalism explained to children…and to the heads of State and Government.” After sitting in the auditorium for about 45 minutes even I began to get the idea…Read on
European Federalism: Right Cause, Wrong People!
By Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
The recent Spinelli Forum of 25 March in Brussels bore the catchy title “The European Federalism explained to children…and to the heads of State and Government.” After sitting in the auditorium for about 45 minutes even I began to get the idea.
I was there because I subscribe to the notion of a Federal Europe. I do so out of disinterested intellectual conviction. A couple of months ago, without much thought as to who prepared the pro-federalist Spinelli Manifesto and why, I added my electronic signature on-line. Hence, the invitation I received to attend the Forum.
I happen to live on Rue Paul Spaak in Brussels, which is almost as good as Place Schuman for the daily reminder of what this city is all about and of the giants who launched the European experiment here. I also have great respect for that elder statesman, Jacques Delors, who was one of the founders of the Spinelli Group. He is emblematic of all that was good about the European experiment when it was nurtured by a Socialist-minded Continent: worldly, cerebral, tolerant and seeking to make Europe a beacon of peace in the world.
But since signing the Manifesto I detected some upsetting, or at least confusing signals in relation to those who now guide the pro-federalist movement, in particular the tandem of ALDE neoliberals (Guy Verhofstadt) and reformed radical Greens (Daniel Cohn-Bendit).
This is not to say that I was indifferent to Verhofstadt before. Readers of this space will be aware that I have published two open letters to the worthy Member of the European Parliament concerning his aggressively anti-Kremlin positions issued in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and on Russian soil in the company of the seditious PARNAS opposition group that is one of the Liberals’ two affiliated parties in Russia (the other being the generally ‘loyal opposition’ Yabloko). He has also spoken out in the sessions of the European Parliament to oppose any accommodative policies towards Russia. He adopts the self-righteous stance of defender of democracy and human rights against an autocratic and dangerous Putin regime. In my critiques I ascribed Verhofstadt’s actions to mere grandstanding, seeking the microphone while operating outside his depth, being led around by his anti-Russian Estonian colleagues in the ALDE bloc.
Unfortunately, I had not done all my homework. I subsequently came across material on Verhofstadt’s close relationship these past few years with Freedom House, the so-called NGO which is 80% financed by the United States government and whose officers are largely recruited from the CIA. A creature of the Cold War, Freedom House prided itself on helping to foment the ‘color revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia. It has sought to play a similarly destabilizing role in Russia. I noted Verhofstadt’s approving presence at a Freedom House hosted conference in Washington, D.C. on 4 March 2013, the anniversary of the last presidential elections in Russia, which dealt with ways to break ‘business as usual’ with Moscow in an undisguised drive to hasten regime change. Other attendees were sponsors of the Magnitsky Bill in Congress, an act whose sole purpose is to discredit Russia in public opinion. There was also a Duma member from the Just Russia party, Gudkov, who had joined the leadership of the Moscow-based irregular opposition coordinating council, in league with those who have led the street demonstrations against Putin in December 2011 and May 2012.
The co-hosts of that Washington event seemed improbable allies for Verhofstadt. I am speaking about the Foreign Policy Initiative, a Neocon lobbying group founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan. This pair had been among the principal thinkers in the Project for a New American Century, from where they called for regime change in Iraq and cheered on George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion. The dismal results of that adventure brought the PNAC into disrepute, and so they launched a new vehicle with the same objective of furthering American worldwide hegemony by hook and by crook.
I say ‘improbable allies,’ because Kagan had crossed swords with Verhofstadt back in 2003, when the Prime Minister of Belgium was a member of the troika of NATO countries - alongside Germany and France - which loudly condemned the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. That public breaking of ranks with the Americans had subsequently cost Verhofstadt the post of president of the European Commission when the British, acting as American proxies, vetoed his candidacy. Americans tend to hold grudges and I could scarcely believe that these formerly opposing forces had patched up their differences. I said as much in an article entitled “Hands across the water” which was published on 18 March on The Voice of Russia website. I suspected bad faith on both sides.
As I sat in the auditorium of the Spinelli Forum, as I read through the hand-out literature, looked at the sponsorship signs and listened to the addresses from the podium, the puzzle began to sort itself out. I had underestimated the forces of attraction between Neocons of all stripes, their shared ‘values based’ foreign policy and their shared lust for dominion over others.
While waiting for the panelists to take their places on the podium, I read through a six-page brochure on the drafting of a “Fundamental Law” for the European Union. The work is being carried out by the Spinelli Group leadership and will be submitted to a Convention following the 2014 European wide parliamentary elections, with a target date of 2017 for ratification by the Member States.
It is interesting that the proposed constitution would not turn the European Union into a fully-fledged federal state. Many powers would be left to the nation-states. However, in three vital areas the Members would henceforth be joined at the hip: economic policy, foreign policy and defense. The logic for such an approach falling short of full unification is easy to fathom: potential opposition of the national governments could be diluted, while what is of key interest to the Spinelli Group would be pushed through.
Given the present crisis of the euro zone, it is no surprise that the authors state: “The main purpose of the treaty exercise…remains the installation of a credible, discernible federal economic government of the fiscal union.” In the Fundamental Law there would be a ‘common economic policy’ and provision for a federal Treasury Minister.
So far, so good. What is more problematic is the other two competences – foreign policy and defense. In federalist literature, like the 2012 book Debout l’Europe written by Guy Verhofstadt and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the argument is made that Europe must bulk up to justify a place at the board of directors table and to continue to partake of world management.
But defense and foreign policy are normally the prerogative of the Executive branch of government, meaning the Commission in the new federal configuration. And we do not know from the information released so far by the Spinelli Group how this Executive would be constituted. Is this going to be a presidential or a parliamentary system? And what checks on the Executive will be put in place? Leaving aside the niceties of constitutional law, as a practical matter, if the federal union is achieved by the work of the Spinelli Group in Parliament, meaning by the Greens and ALDE, what kind of European foreign and defense policy may we expect?
From the opening words of Verhofstadt to the Forum and the exchange of remarks by the panelists, I very quickly got the idea of what they have in mind. But before going into that, I’d like to comment on the nature of the interactive democracy we may expect from these nice folks at Spinelli if power does come their way.
Everyone in the room had signed up to the Spinelli manifesto calling for a federal union. Each of us had been issued an electronic voting gadget which would record and then display on a screen our responses to a number of questions. The idea was to give attendees a feeling of ownership in the new draft Constitution. However, this democratic principle did not stretch very far. The questions themselves were of secondary if not tertiary importance: whether all 26 European languages should be official languages of the Union for purposes of conducting business? Whether MEP candidates should be limited to their home country or be voted on in multi-state party rolls?
Another bit of high-tech, modern age tinsel was the permanent projection on an overhead screen of tweets from the participants as the Forum progressed. Here again, the organizers were putting the accent on ersatz participation while preserving for themselves all power. We, the audience, were just film extras. Is this how our new Federalists intend to run the show straight through to the Convention, and even further to the referendums in each nation-state? It looks very much like the elite behavior that otherwise has brought Europe to the edge of ruin.
Now let us turn briefly to the signals which were coming from the podium once the microphones were turned on. Guy Verhofstadt delivered the words of greeting and reminded the audience that they were there because the European Union as presently constituted cannot speak with one voice about the important issues of the day. He named three cases pending: Syria, Cyprus and Hungary. The last two issues are internal to the EU and are wholly appropriate concerns of an MEP. But the first item, Syria tells us where this federalist leader’s feet are pointed. In fact, throughout the Arab Spring, Verhofstadt has been a strident voice calling for a big European role. He takes pride in having launched the Libyan uprising from the floor of the European Parliament. And now he wants European intervention in the Syrian civil war to bring down the Assad regime. Not to mince words, Verhofstadt is behaving like a neo-imperialist and like a blood brother of the American Neocons for whom humanitarian intervention is merely a smoke screen for enforcement of global hegemony.
Another incident which crystallized my understanding of the meeting was the remark from the dais (just who was speaking I could not determine) that it was so sad Europe is stuck with its colorless chief officers, the likes of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton; how sad that Tony Blair had not been taken on to lead the Council.
I would argue that it is more regrettable that Tony Blair was not sent to the Hague to face charges as a war criminal for having made the Iraq invasion of 2003 possible by giving credibility to George Bush’s act of aggression.
Given the signals from Spinelli group leaders on what capture of foreign policy will mean if they take power in the federal union they are so actively promoting, it is now understandable to me why one of the key sponsors of their events is the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Germany’s largest foundation/think tank which is known as a supporter of right-wing (neo-liberal) political causes. Here in the capital of Europe, the Bertelsmann Stiftung just happens to be a leading sponsor of the annual Brussels Forum, an Atlanticist exercise where security specialists, particularly those from Neocon circles in the United States like Robert Kagan are given an opportunity to strut their stuff, and where Bertelsmann also subsidizes their publications.
For both the Greens and the neo-liberal ALDE blocs of the European Parliament who are spearheading the cause of a Convention, the activist foreign policy I fear is totally in character with the personality types of those at the top. The Greens, created by former radicals such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joscha Fischer, are European counterparts of the ex-Trotskyites who founded the Neocon movement in the United States in the late 1970s. In the person of Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE has a neo-liberal leader who was, before he came to power in Belgium, an openly Thatcherite politician. And though he has said, to all appearances ruefully, that he later recovered from that lapse of judgment, as an MEP he now occupies positions indistinguishable from Neoconservatives, meaning he has stumbled into a still worse set of beliefs on the Right than the ones he left behind.
The outgoing American ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium Howard Gutman recently noted in an address to a college alumni association that seemingly divided and disputatious Belgium, with almost as many cheeses as France and an open sore of nationalist tensions between north and south, shows far more political unanimity on certain issues than does the United States. Indeed, during the last American presidential elections straw polls among Belgians indicated that more than 90% of those polled would vote for the Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who is winding down America’s wars, rather than for the Neocon and Tea Party backed opponent, Mitt Romney. In the United States proper, the split in voting was not far from the traditional 51% - 49%. One can be fairly certain that rejection of warlike and interventionist policies of the Neocons was recorded across a broad swathe of the Old Continent. For these reasons, it would be a perversion of democracy if the net result of the pro-federalist constitutional movement in Europe were to result in a Green-ALDE victory and the ascendance of an essentially Neoconservative foreign policy which is beyond the reach of public censure because of executive privilege. What would predictably follow is the forging of a European identity through wars on hapless developing countries around the world.
Meanwhile, the rallying of Europe to act in lock-step with the United States in force projection and hegemonic behavior would only strengthen the currently chaste hand-holding of Russia and China into a full-fledged military alliance, leading to more proxy wars and the revival of risks of nuclear Armageddon that we somewhat naively thought was behind us when the Berlin Wall came down.
If this is the price to pay for a federal Europe, then, with heavy heart, I can only wish that the pro-federalist movement led by ALDE and the Greens goes down to ignominious defeat in 2014. It would appear that European unification will have to wait another cycle in the Left-Right generational turnover, until the genuinely humanistic Socialists, who were the fathers of the European experiment and who placed maintenance of the peace above justice return to power.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2013
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, “Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12,” is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.