Eesti Elu
Two grey mice
Arvamus 27 Nov 2009  Eesti Elu
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Unknowns named to top two EU posts

On November 19 a pair of relatively unknown politicians were named to the two top posts of the new European Union, as outlined by the contentious Lisbon Treaty. The announcement of Belgian Prime Minister Hermann Van Rompuy as President and the UK’s Baroness Catherine Ashton as the new Foreign Minister provoked European-wide response, ranging from bafflement to outright displeasure. The latter was to be expected, as Lisbon was rubber-stamped into force, approval was based on governmental acceptance rather than through referenda.

After the French and Dutch rejected the European Constitution by referendum its authors were loath to let democracy get in their way. The result was that the original text was shuffled and reissued in December 2007 as the Lisbon Treaty, in order “to avoid having referendums.”

And then, when even after the changes Ireland rejected Lisbon in 2008 a second attempt was made to gain the desired result. After major lobbying from Brussels and a heavily slanted advertising campaign the Yes side prevailed. Still, the people of three nations have already said No to the text, and the possibility of the United Kingdom doing the same, had not Lisbon been fast-tracked, was not out of the realm of possibility. As leading eurosceptic Professor Anthony Coughlan wrote in 2007, “the peoples of Europe do not want this kind of highly centralized Federal European Union whose most striking feature is that it is run virtually entirely by committees of politicians, bureaucrats and judges, none of whom are directly elected by the people.”

However, as things stand now Lisbon, and all that will follow has been deemed necessary to unite a notoriously divided continent and to make it possible for Europeans to speak with one voice on a global stage.

The European Union’s politically correct backroom horse-trading, so as to ensure that a curious quota system would be honoured, raised some hackles. The two successful candidates had to represent large and small nations, the left and right wings of the continent, and gender was also key. For some reason two men or two women, no matter how well qualified, would not have reflected the EU’s impractical and perhaps unattainable goal of universal equality.

Reaction to the winning candidates ranged from tepid to dismay. On the one hand, Ulrike Guérot, writing on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations ( ), expressed the opinion that van Rompuy and Ashton might actually be good choices. Guérot wrote “yes, they are unknown and do not convey strong opinions or visions for Europe. And they are not overly experienced in foreign affairs. However, this has an advantage: they are not foot printed, and are unlikely to stick to ‘old' experiences and ideas. Their newness might be precisely the chance for the EU to build a new foreign service and to shape the world's foreign policy agenda by overcoming resource deficiencies and national divisions.”

On the other hand, Van Rompuy and Ashton face the enormous challenge of persuading the disenfranchised millions upon millions that their leading EU roles will actually have relevance in an top-down directed and imposed union of nations for whom the only real common denominator is sharing the same land mass.

Perhaps most telling is what Paul Belien wrote in The Brussels Journal, the self-titled “Voice of Conservatism in Europe.”

Belien notes first the obvious: “the President of Europe has not been elected; he was appointed in a secret meeting of the heads of government of the 27 EU member states. They chose one of their own. Herman Van Rompuy was the Prime Minister of Belgium. I knew him when he was just setting out, reluctantly, on his political career.”
Furthermore, Belien notes that to understand Van Rompuy “one must know something about Belgium, a tiny country in Western Europe, and the prototype of the EU. Belgians do not exist as a nation. Belgium is an artificial state, constructed by the international powers in 1830 as a political compromise and experiment. The country consists of 6 million Dutch, living in Flanders, the northern half of the country, and 4 million French, living in Wallonia, the southern half. The Belgian Dutch, called Flemings, would have preferred to stay part of the Netherlands, as they were until 1830, while the Belgian French, called Walloons, would have preferred to join France. Instead, they were forced to live together in one state.” (

Belien concludes his lengthy analysis of the new President’s role by underlining the obvious: “Like Belgium, the European Union is an undemocratic institution, which needs shrewd leaders who are capable of renouncing everything they once believed in and who know how to impose decisions on the people against the will of the people. Never mind democracy, morality or the rule of law, our betters know what is good for us more than we do.”

Ahto Lobjakas, perhaps Estonia’s most astute observer of EU affairs and a regular contributor in English to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty weighed in on Monday. Writing in ‘Postimees” ( ) Lobjakas labels Van Rompuy’s and Ashton’s election as Europe’s nadir, Euroopa absoluutne nullpunkt, echoing Guérot by suggesting that the most outstanding feature of the two new top EU politicians is that they do not stand out as being either for or against anything. They are thus “the distillation of Europe’s grey political masses.” Lobjakas writes that the mountain that is the EU has given birth to two grey mice. By claiming that the tandem is the best possible selection to lead the EU the union’s backroom leadership is putting on a good public face while participating in a shoddy game. Those at the top of the europyramid have effectively placed defensive layers denying dissonant realities, which is not far removed from exhibiting characteristics common to those presenting split personality syndrome.

Lobjakas’ brilliant analysis is must reading, underscoring as it does that the ringing EU principles of democracy, constitutional statehood, the indivisibility of human and basic rights, equality and solidarity are but empty words which are defined primarily only by Europe’s two large powers, Germany and France. Ashton will not be able to avoid singing from their score.

Lobjakas points out that the Laeken declaration of December 15, 2001, so promising in its desire to reform the EU’s constitution and the reason for generating the forces behind Lisbon’s constitutional reform process, was not even mentioned in passing on November 19.

Laeken “set out the key issues to be discussed at a Convention on the Future of Europe: the division of competences between the Union and its Member States, the simplification of the Union's legislative instruments, the maintenance of interinstitutional balance and an improvement to the efficacy of the decision-making procedure, and the constitutionalization of the Treaties” ( ).

Laeken posed one principled concern after another and in Lobjakas’ view did not leave a single conscientious EU responsibility unaddressed. The hope was very strong that the EU would begin to act resolutely in combating violence, terror and fanaticism in today’s global village marked by heart-rending inequalities the world over . Lobjakas asks quite simply: who would dare to say today that those hopes have been realized?

That is the question that the EU of the Lisbon Treaty mountain, towering over two drab appointees, cannot possibly answer to anyone’s liking.
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