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.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

ngrima@in­de­pen­dent.com.mt

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!

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