The Council fault line
I sense a widespread sense of dismay that the EU Council of Ministers backed down and did not follow the European Parliament vote in plenary on Leo Brincat.
But then this dismay is misplaced and ill-informed as to the realities of the EU. And the fault line revealed one of the structural fault lines that lie across the EU’s hopes of becoming a continental power.
Those who expected the representative(s) of other member states to vote against Mr Brincat do not understand the realities of Council meetings and deliberations. States do not pronounce vetoes except in very dire situations and they certainly would not dream of using it in the case of one representative of a small state. They did not use it in the case of the Polish candidate who was a judge in Jaruzelski’s days.
The mechanics of a Council meeting can sometimes resemble a barter hall – you help me out in this and I will help you out in that. I very much doubt if our government offered any inducement to persuade the other states not to hinder Leo’s march to Luxembourg: there was no real need, no real fear.
Anyway, with Malta holding firm to its candidate and with the other member states needing Malta’s cooperation during its presidency, the tiny minute regarding Mr Brincat passed on the nod.
The Council of Ministers is a unique Community creation. You would not find it, for example, in the US because all its states are subordinate to the Federal government. So Vermont, for instance, has no issue with its neighbouring state and no state is sovereign.
The EEC, then the EU, has so far refused to go along that way. It has refused to sacrifice the sovereignty of each individual state and create a huge almighty federal state. It would solve some problems if it were to do so, but the direction it is heading in now is in the opposite direction. When the voters of Hungary go to vote in the referendum today, they will be asked to support their government against the direction imposed by the Council and the Commission as regards migrants. When the voters of Britain voted for Brexit 100 days ago, they voted as citizens of a sovereign state against the directives and impositions (as they saw it) of an unelected Commission.
This is the fault line that has nobbled the euro time and again. The euro needs something more substantial that this flimsy Council structure, even if it has been rendered more robust through Ecofin and the ECB. Regardless of this shaky structure, the euro has become a world currency. Its problems would all (or almost all) be solved if the EU were to become a federal state and the various states made to help each other in time of need rather than engage in beggar-thy-neighbour policies as they have been doing.
But the EU (whatever the Leave campaign said) is not moving in that direction. On the contrary, it is moving in the opposite direction, in the direction of sovereign member states. This is why the Council structure is a very important one and one which member states jealously preserve. And why they would not allow a personal issue, such as Leo Brincat, knock it around.
So far, the experience of Maltese ministers under both administrations has been the drudge of travelling for Council meetings. The novelty of such meetings soon palls under the stress of repeated meetings. But come January, Malta will not just attend these meetings but also preside over them and, at the end, summarise the conclusions.
The EU’s Council structure is a robust one and has survived worse governments than ours – Belgium held the presidency when it did not have a government and the present presidency is held by Eurosceptic Slovakia.
My sources in Brussels however tell me that we have had delegation after delegation from the staff of Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, who have been meeting the various ministers. They are said to have reported back in Brussels that they found the Maltese ministers well-prepared for their task, except for one who looked like he had not gone to sleep the previous night!