Democracy comes off worst in a bruising EU encounter
A boorish and xenophobic attack on the Czech president unmasks the European Parliament’s disdain for democracy
It's not the rudeness that grates, nor even the smugness. It's the hypocrisy. Last week, the leaders of the various groups in the European Parliament met the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus. One of them, the former soixante-huitarde, Danny Cohn-Bendit, had lined up various journalists to talk to immediately afterwards.
As he arrived, Cohn-Bendit, who now leads the Euro-Greens, plonked an EU flag in front of the startled president, declared: "I am not interested in your opinions," and proceeded to hector him boorishly about the virtues of the Lisbon Treaty, which Klaus opposes.
Klaus, who is a ceremonial head of state, was understandably shocked. No one, he said, had spoken to him in such a tone since the old days of Czechoslovakia. He appealed to the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, to keep the tone civil.
Mr Crowley now denies his words, and small wonder: they are factually wrong
Now Mr Poettering is normally a stickler for courtesy. When a group of MEPs demonstrated in the chamber in favour of a referendum last year, he fined them, claiming that they had disgraced the assembly in the presence of the Prime Minister of Portugal. Now, though, he struck a very different tone, inviting Cohn-Bendit to carry on and sanctimoniously telling President Klaus that MEPs could ask whatever they liked, and that he should not make comparisons to the Communist era.
Then came Brian Crowley, the leader of Fianna Fail. He excoriated President Klaus for having had the effrontery to meet leaders of the 'No' campaign in Ireland as well as supporters of the Lisbon Treaty.
This is how the transcript, released by the Czech presidency, records his comments:
"I am from Ireland and I am a member of a party in government. All his life my father fought against the British domination. Many of my relatives lost their lives. That is why I dare to say that the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty. It was an insult, Mr. President, to me and to the Irish people what you said during your state visit to Ireland. It was an insult that you met Declan Ganley, a man with no elected mandate. This man has not proven the sources from which his campaign was funded."
Mr Crowley is now denying those words, and small wonder. Quite apart from the xenophobia, the arrogance, the discourtesy, the contempt for democracy and the non sequitur, they are factually wrong: his father, also a Fianna Fail MP, was born 13 years after independence, which makes it hard to see how he can have spent his life fighting the British. Crowley is now saying that he never mentioned his old man. Really? A scribe in Klaus's office just happened to know that Crowley Senior had been a Republican politician, and made up the whole thing?
In the chamber this week, I invited the Speaker to place on the record that the European Parliament recognised all points of view, including those opposed to the Lisbon Treaty, and that it respected the office of the Presidency of the Czech Republic. He declined.
Shortly after my intervention came a moment worthy of that most famous son of Prague, Franz Kafka.
Now, practising the EU’s commitment to transparency is an attack on democracy
Martin Schulz, the Socialist leader, sprang to his feet to attack the Czech authorities for having publicised the meeting. It was, he said, undemocratic. Undemocratic! You see how language is used in the European Parliament? Simply to put into practice the EU's much-vaunted commitment to transparency is now, somehow, an attack on democracy.
The funniest thing is that neither Schulz nor Poettering is aware of how he is coming across. Sealed in their little bubble, surrounded by Europhile hirelings, Eurocrats have lost all sense of how the rest of mankind thinks. That is their tragedy. It may also be Europe's. ·
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