Sunday, 19 September 2010

“Romagate”: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves – Lessons by Chantal Brunel

The French “Romagate” affair tells us more about the state of the European Union than the speech of Commission president José Manuel Barroso ever did.

The shouted and whispered words open a treasure cave, as in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They act as our “Open Sesame”, giving us access to most valuable insights.

Even if media attention has shifted to new subjects, it is worthwhile to recall the discussions and to assess their meaning for the EU, using “Romagate” as a learning experience.

Long before Grahnlaw showed president Nicolas Sarkozy a red card (or two), the Euroblog of Fabien l’Européen sent off the UMP spokesperson Chantal Brunel for the following remark:

« la France est une nation souveraine ; on n’a pas des leçons de morale à recevoir d’une commissaire qui représente un petit pays [le Luxembourg] de 350 000 habitants. Nous sommes un grand pays de 57 millions d’habitants ».

If we start from the end, Fabien Cazenave points out that France has 65 million inhabitants.

I find it fascinating that the spokesperson for the government party in an EU member state is unaware of the size of the population in her own country. According to Eurostat figures for 2010, the French population is 64,713,762, which we can round off to the 65 million Cazenave mentions.

Proportionately, the error concerning Luxembourg was even greater, since Eurostat reports a population of 502,066.

However, these misstated facts are just minor imperfections compared to the legal and political ignorance Brunel managed to show in two short sentences.

Commissioner Viviane Reding is from Luxembourg, admittedly a small member state, but she does not represent her country.

On 3 May the members of the European Commission, including commissioner Reding, made the following solemn declaration before the Court of Justice of the European Union, pursuant to Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 245 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

Having been appointed as a Member of the European Commission by the European Council, following the vote of consent by the European Parliament

I solemnly undertake:

• to respect the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in the fulfilment of all my duties;

• to be completely independent in carrying out my responsibilities, in the general interest of the Union;

• in the performance of my tasks, neither to seek nor to take instructions from any Government or from any other institution, body, office or entity;

• to refrain from any action incompatible with my duties or the performance of my tasks.

I formally note the undertaking of each Member State to respect this principle and not to seek to influence Members of the Commission in the performance of their tasks.

I further undertake to respect, both during and after my term of office, the obligation arising therefrom, and in particular the duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after I have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits.

Even if the solemn oath can be seen as an arcane detail, known only to EU buffs, I would expect those with major responsibilities among members of national parliaments to be reasonably aware of basics concerning the European Union.

According to Article 17 TEU, the Commission shall promote the general interest of the European Union. It shall also ensure the application of the Treaties and EU law, under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Member states shall respect the independence of the members of the Commission and shall not seek to influence them in the performance of their tasks (Article 245 TFEU).

If a member state fails to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties, the Commission can initiate an infringement procedure (Article 258 TFEU).

When Chantal Brunel defends a government caught red-handed and its ministers misrepresenting the facts, she forgets that France has voluntarily pooled parts of its sovereignty in favour of the rules based system of the European Union.

When Brunel attacks commissioner Reding, she seems to be unaware of the fact that the Commission speaks for the general interest of 501 million EU citizens, not the particular interests of the country of origin of each member of the college.

The European Union shall respect the equality of member states before the Treaties (Article 4 TEU), so the population size of the country does not even enter into the equation of adherence to the rules. Morally, one could argue, a founding member could be expected to lead by example.

In just two sentences, Chantal Brunel has taught us many valuable lessons.

Among the several reactions from the UMP government majority, the Euroblog of Euros du Village was even ready to declare Brunel the “winner”, in: France : les ravages du déshonneur.

Ralf Grahn