- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nearly four decades ago, Henry Kissinger expressed a desire just to have one telephone number to ring whenever it was necessary to consult with America’s European allies.

The idea of a European superstate with national parliaments reduced to being conveyor-belts for decisions arrived at by a directory dominated by bureaucrats and special interests was still only a gleam in the eye of its advocates.

Americans unsure of the place democracy will enjoy in the architecture of a united Europe should reflect on the response of top Eurocrats ever since the bombshell delivered by the Irish electorate on Thursday. One million voters had the chance to give an opinion on whether the European Union (EU) should acquire a president, a foreign minister in charge of a diplomatic service, and much enhanced powers in justice and home affairs. Their reasons for voting down the Lisbon Treaty were not uniform but there was a clear-cut desire to prevent power over key decisions being transferred from their own local politician to an even more unrepresentative bunch of decisionmakers far away in Brussels.

The same instincts propelled French and Dutch voters in 2005 to reject a nearly identical package of extra powers for an entity increasingly impatient with allowing voters a role in its decisions.

Here was an opportunity for the grandees in Brussels to pause and reflect on whether the European project was going in a wrong direction. Had the time come to retreat from building a post-national Europe owing to the lack of enthusiasm among most voters? Derisory numbers usually bothered to turn out and vote in the elections for the European Parliament. It was dominated by colorless figures who had failed to succeed at home and were more excited by the marvellous perks than by making the bureaucrats in the European Commission and the politicians of the European Council accountable to the wider electorate.

The EU had failed to acquire a narrative or inspiring symbols able to supplant those of the nation-state. It was a happy hunting-ground for ambitious party leaders who feared the volatility of their home electorates and longed for a bigger political arena with a progressive image but where the voters had little chance of altering things.

Elitists with a post-democratic mindset have found allies who are normally uncomfortable bedfellows. Campaigning groups promoting progressive causes such as environmentalism, feminism and anti-racism have been given the role of representing the inarticulate European “people.” And ample funding and places on numerous European committees have been allocated to them.

While culturally leftist in its instincts, the EU is far more to the right in its economic orientation. Major companies in the “core Europe” of France and Germany have combined their operations and they wish the EU to follow suit in its political arrangements.

These companies often bankroll once-mighty parties now devoid of grass-roots supporters, so they wield enormous influence in the corridors of power in Brussels.

An important segment of European capital, mainly German in fact, advocates a realist approach to an undemocratic Russia because of major investments there. European companies have lobbyists in Brussels who argue that Russia should be allowed to invest in the West European energy field even though it doesn’t play by the normal rules of the capitalist game.

These plutocrats are content for the campaigning bodies, given group rights by the EU, to make a huge din about global warming and the iniquities of American “hyper-power” because it draws attention away from such an unholy compromise.

It is surely no coincidence that it is Ireland, which only broke free of hundreds of years of colonial rule in the 1920s , that has driven the EU juggernaut into the ditch.

The Irish may not be aware of the nefarious deals being cooked up in Brussels, but many smelled a rat when they saw the Lisbon document was concocted in impenetrable language and were angry when their new Prime Minister Brian Cowan complacently remarked that he had not even bothered to read it.

The president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso and the head of the European Parliament Gert Poettering both issued statements making it clear that the Irish vote had been a tiresome consultative exercise that produced the wrong result.

President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy, an ex-stalwart of the Communist Party and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the 1968 student rebellion in Paris and now a Green member of the European Parliament, both expressed their annoyance that 1 million voters had held up the utopian project.

But it did not occur to them that the real wrong was the failure of the 400 million other citizens of the EU to be given the chance to express a view on the Lisbon Treaty. By rights, it should be going nowhere since the approval of all 27 members of the EU is required.

But in all likelihood, unless Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown tries to rescue a sinking career by standing alongside his own electorate and pronouncing the treaty stone-dead, the new tier of powers is likely to be forced through by some clever, sharp practice.

It would be a mistake if U.S. opinion simply smiled indulgently and assumed this was just another chapter in the never-ending psycho-drama about Europe struggling to find itself.

If the peoples of Europe are forced to surrender any kind of leverage over their rulers in a post-national Europe dominated by unaccountable lobbies and interest groups, it will be a huge reverse for democracy in the West.

Henry Kissinger himself now appears to have doubts about the wisdom of Europe having only one phone line when he warned in February that “the EU has not yet achieved a vision and loyalty comparable to the nation-state.”

The threat of communist totalitarianism was a chief impulse encouraging Europeans to pool their sovereignty. Now there is mounting evidence that those at the helm of the EU are ready to throw overboard democracy in order to build an edifice that will have more than a passing resemblance to the Soviet Union, thanks to its refusal to heeds the interests of its citizens.

Tom Gallagher is a Reagan-Fascell scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. His book “Romania and the EU: How the Weak Vanquished the Strong” will be published by Manchester University Press early next year.

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