THE WISDOM OF A STEP BACK …on Schengen and the rest.


At last the European Union leaders have seen fit to restrict temporarily the Schengen rules in face of the unexpected and probably not fully justified inflow of Tunisian and other African refugees.

It was high time. Yet the decision is accompanied by utterings of  “very temporarily” “exceptionally “ etcetera  since they hold up “Schengen” as one of our great achievements in the European Union : free travel.

Those mental reservations are overdone. Citizens of European Union member countries are very well prepared for the sake of more safety to travel with their passports in their pockets. True, for non-Europeans the new situation may bring some inconvenience. But the visa rules under Schengen have for a long time been too loosely implemented by the various embassies. We know of very strict ambassadors and also of a few lenient ones. But this aspect can be handled and improved. And if we lack people to do the extra work we take some of the officials from Lady Aston’s European External Action Service (EEAS).

Good, then, this step back on Schengen. Any sound living organization must adjust to changing circumstances. And in the EU that rule of life was forgotten too long. Too long it was assumed that the EU could ever and only go forward, forward, expand, and expand. Mission creep, creep, and never go back a single step.

If realism sets now in, so much the better.

So much the better also for those of us who will not forget how the “European Constitution”, solidly rejected by France and the Netherlands and Ireland, was forced down our throats again by our primary school masters of the European Union, who told us to stick at the “topic at hand” and never wander in our thoughts to extraneous matters like the questions around Turkey’s membership candidacy.

That schoolmasterly discipline of the Junker’s took away much of the legitimacy of the European Union.

That legitimacy will come back certainly. But first the lesson that a “step backward” is sometimes needed has to sink in.  Deeply and broadly. Below are a few of the other fields where a step back is urgently needed.

The Turkish Candidature

The Turks keep knocking obsessively on the door. Yet they engage in warlike expeditions against Israel, prepare their country for full Islam, cut back on the few safety interruptors which Kemal Ataturk had left in the constitution and in the state’s organization.

We have to bring clarity in the EU-Turkey relations putting an end to the present unwelcome membership negotiations. Clarity is needed for the benefit first of all of our own European nations which were misled by our heads of government and heads of State. The “Criteria of Copenhagen” trumped up by their Sherpa’s in a side room when they were gathering in Finland are taken one by one needed. But in their totality but in their totality they are insufficient. Because the Copenhagen criteria do not address the main question : WHERE IS THE MOTIVATION, THE BENEFIT FOR EUROPE of the particular accession proposed?

The question at hand is not about whether Turkey has a desire or even feels a “vocation” to join the EU but whether the EU has any impelling argument, any capital advantage, and a “vocation” to assume Turkey as a full member. The answer to that question is a round “NO”. Never a compelling advantage to the Union has been adequately argued or proven. Rather the entrance of Turkey in the Union would disturb and fracture European society at two levels:

1)      At the highest decision making level, (which under EU rules is now subject to demographic criteria) , since Turkey  would have more power than for instance Germany

2)      …and at the lower level of ordinary city life particularly the suburbs: the inability and even unwillingness of Turkish immigrants (abetted by Prime Minister Erdogan himself who tells his Turks in Germany not to integrate) to become part  of our European culture. That unwillingness fragments European society, lessens social cohesion, destroys social capital.

Creating clarity by taking a step back is not only for our European benefit but also for Turkey’s wellbeing and for a better perspective of good European relations with that important country

The form of a step back could be  an improved partnership with Turkey. Such proposals have been spurned by the present Turkish leadership. Let us wait then for new leadership after Erdogan. The step back on our side is important. (note [1])

A step back in the EURO-ZONE  

In light of the fact that the EURO-zone rules impede a member in trouble from addressing its problems  adequately by a lower priced currency the idea that any step back would be a shame on Europe, and a sign of a break down of the EURO  must be given up. Leaving the system should not be impossible, if the problem is not liquidity but solvability.

But even if such a step should be considered, other steps backward may be needed with respect to intermediate solution so far advocated. A step back is needed from the so far prevailing notion that the default risk should be shifted from the improvident investing banks to  the states (and the taxpayers) of their nations, to the exclusion of the banks taking a “hair-cut”. But  were their investments in the bad bonds not improvident? Was their among European banks  after the fall of the Wall and the expansion of the Union  not a temptation  to act like Teutonic knights conquering new eastern financial markets? If so, a haircut should be seen and accepted  as part of the business (expansion) costs.

The banks and other investors were not under any government order to buy Greek bonds. Let them amortize the loss with some fiscal advantage over a longer period.

If a total transfer of risk from the banks to their own respective governments is already wrong, even more wrong would be to spread it further to governments of countries where banks did not buy the risky bonds. Stepping back from indiscriminate sharing of pain  would be a useful step back.(note  [2] )

That Greece would have to show a better efforts than in the last 40 years is beyond doubt.. But now we should not press for any “fire-sale” of the Greek family silver. Rather a long period should be used in helping the Greeks to nurture those family treasures to value , and then aim for their privatization aiming  getting full value for Greece and Europe. When Mussolini ordered nationalization of big italian enterprises in 1928 we have seen that it took nearly 80 years before that step was totally undone. Some steps back like Greece’s re-privatization will take a lot of time and pain

For some eurocrats a step back from incivility.

Minister Juncker who pressured European citizens  to vote in favor of the “Constitution” was already mentioned. Many of his colleagues in Europe however had the same attitude of disrespect. A more recent  example is Mrs Viviane Reding who maltreated Nicolas Sarkozy on the question of the gypsies and their rights.                                                                          Not all of us are admirers of Sarkozy, but even the citizens of other countries than France will not take it lightly when unelected EU officials in their pomposity treat the head of a sovereign nation with that lack of civility. With a smile let us offer the lady a copy of  Emily Post’s old classic  “Etiquette”  with a little note slipped inside : “Step back, please ! Next time better!”.

high-handed manners in Brussels are not taken anymore by our people. Was it arrogance or only stupidity when recently Christian holidays in a widely distributed school agenda were altogether cut out?  But if it was “just” a stupidity,  it was not an innocent stupidity. It showed a very definite plan to which we are now all alerted.                                                 The EU diplomatic services are also too easily pressed in support of  homosexual  propaganda.. To protect the human rights of homosexuals is fine. But to go out at the highest diplomatic level of the EU to warn Russia and African countries that they should permit the so-called “Gay Pride” march and other aggressive instead of defensive demonstrations is bad. Don’t lend the “Mr EU Ambassador”  for such performances. Sending the third secretary is already more than enough.

On all those bad mannerisms a prompt step backward is needed or the aversion of our populations to EU matters may become irreparable. The EU structure does presently not have the right style-masters in the right places.

However, and luckily, even right in the center of Brussels, a few stylemasters are sprouting up now with a sharp nose for what smelly things are going on above and under the ground. Their “Talpa” (latin for “mole”) is a discrete persistent small animal seeking out secrets and scandals in Brussel’s basements and warning us at a weekly basis (note [3])

A step back on the exclusivity of parliamentary democracy

In Europe we need  a step back from present exclusive reliance on the  representative democracy, that is sole reliance on elections and our hope that the elected will represent us well. Its weakness is that under that system we select only once in a few years our representatives for a long period, but then immediately lose control over them since they are taken over by political party leaders.

Our good friend in Paris Monsieur Yvan Blot shows that democrat decision-making has another variety which deserves attention:  direct voting by people in nations at large, or in provinces, or cities, on single policy issues by referendum. This method luckily exists and flourishes in Switzerland. Let Switzerland show us the light! Germany and Italy have in some parts also valid experience in this direct form of democracy either at the national or at the federal level. The United States have also such forms of direct democracy in about 27 of their states.                                                                                                                               If in California this system has exceeded its natural boundaries, damaging the “representational form of democracy” namely the California State parliament, and obstructing California’s Executive powers (“Proposition 13” and its sequels), that will serve as a useful lesson.  (The Economist: “Burn the Wagons” and “The perils of extreme democracy”)

The California lesson must be taken seriously. It shows that none of the methods which can help democracy should be exploited in isolation  hurting the other elements of democracy. Much depends on checks and balances. If direct democracy is overused, often to obstruct rightful taxes, the whole system breaks down and the state, like California shows. gets into default.

For Europe this point has significance. Dominique Moisi launches broad criticisms on the use of populist demagogy in Germany and other European countries. But are those aberrations of politicians connected with the stern discipline of  “direct democracy”? Not at all. The real good referenda are carefully prepared and give citizens over time a deep schooling on the reality of political questions. What Moisi may have in mind is the easiness with which politicians nowadays in Europe follow public opinion polls which only express momentary moods. That habit which he sees being followed in Germany (“Geneva on the Rhine.” Dominique Moisi) is entirely different from the discipline which true “direct democracy” supposes and then in the execution fosters.

Used properly like in Switzerland and in the majority of applications it is a healthy corrective. We should take a step back from our European over-reliance on representational democracy  Even parliaments will gain from the innovation in the end because they will operate more carefully and in unison with educated public wishes Parliaments will get back part of the luster they have lost By themselves they would not be able to fill the deeply felt “democratic deficit”    English information


EUROPE’S “POWER PROJECTIONS”. preventing the need for any step back

The criticism has been leveled at the European Union and its constituting member states that a unified well-structured presence in major capitals like Beijing (Washington, Tokyo, Russia) is still missing. The Outward Action Program has been mentioned as a useful partial answer.

That something is still lacking in the coordination of EU interests also in relation to foreign powers, is well documented (see for instance … John Fox and Francois Godement published: “A Power Audit of EU-China relations” (European Council on Foreign Relations – ECFR.EU. see A power audit of EU-China relations )

We thought the “power” aspect of that discussion somewhat overdone and we came  with a modest proposal: detailing special councilors to some of the major embassies in Beijing (..Washington, Tokyo etc.) to scout for national projects of the European embassy where they are working and then search to enhance their efficacy by some linkage with similar activities undertaken by other European embassies . In this way the total impact of the European Union and of Europe could be greatly enhanced.  Europe would get a better image, a better “rayonnement” in that particular country. That is something  governments (of China, USA, Japan) could well understand and might even applaud. The “power” aspect  not always be so much emphasized as Fox and Godement did).

Are baroness Ashton and her External Action Service the answer? It is too early to answer that question. Certainly the claim that she was hours late (later than Barroso –van Rompuy) in issuing a statement on the killing of Osama Bin Laden is a futile one. There have been in the EU already too many decision done in speed, too much running around. And running leads to the subsequent need of making a step back as we see. A single voice for the European Union as a whole is not always necessary but more cordial coordination could be facilitated. That would avoid the dangers of a overcentralized top-down management style which would be against our “subsidiarity principle” .[4]

STEPS BACK in other fields ?

Perhaps the moment is should to think of a general house-cleaning. (also the field of rules and regulations, technical requirements, overly stressed central quality rules  etc) At least it might be worthwhile to keep the question open.                                                                     At least the notion that in our EU endeavours any step  back would mean total disaster, should be dispelled.

This goes also for the judicial colleges of Europe and of the European Union:

One of them is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

And the other the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg

Theses two bodies  have in recent years vastly exceeded their terms of reference and behave rather like legislative bodies.

No wonder that the Swiss keep their distance from the European Union.  Never before as now there is a need to keep the terms “Europe” and “European Union” well distinguishes and separated, since in practice they not are not rarely contradictory and even adversarial.

Is it really necessary that the court should proclaim that observance of human rights conveys the notion that retirement ages should be equal for both sexes ?  Is that done of military service? Do insurance premiums have to be equal for men and women for car driving ? For those questions the Constitutions do not give answers. It is for the prudent legislators to find the best answers and not for the Courts

The superactive courts in Luxembourg and Strasboug try to fashion a constitution for Europe (resp. the European Union) and that is not their task.

(Tyrannie des juges contre droit des peuples : les dérives de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme (CEDH)
We saw the tentative of the Human Rights court to banish crucifixes from schools. A court that can be that wobbly between first and second appeal does not earn great respect. A big step backward wil be needed for those courts.. The addition of another layer to democracy: direct corrective democracy by referendum is made even more urgent.

What goes for the European Union goes also  for the European Council and other European entities. The European Council too will have to go through some house cleaning, and measuring the scope of its true vocations. (one thinks of its uncritical following of the “gender” doctrine, as if the difference between man and woman was only a cultural construct and not a fact of nature, and therefore basis of requirements of Natural Law)   cf. article of Elizabeth Montfort on this topic)

Stepping back in order to prepare better future advances. “reculer pour mieux sauter”.

The above comments must not be taken as a general rejection of  the European Union concept. At some other time we may go forward, more prudently than we have done in the past. A decent general house-cleaning and a few steps back would be helpful.

Anton Smitsendonk

Peking June 2011

Note [1]  The Ukraine might come to mind. The question should never be whether a (European) country feels  any “vocation” or wish to appertain to the European Union, but whether the ultimate goals of Europe are better served by admitting that country, Perhaps an alternative could be found. It is not the outsider’s “vocation” but our vocation which should determine the issue. The conflation, and therefore confusion  of tasks between the European Community and the NATO was also an element  in the badly handled Turkey-file.

Note [2]  I remember that in one of the very useful and well attended meetings which Michel de Poncins launches in his “CLE” (Catholiques pour les Libertes Economiques) after a lecture by doctor …. on the dangers waiting the non-capitalized retirement systems of France and Italy, we, the Dutch, the Scots and the English (with capitalized systems)  would be unwilling to share in any spreading of the losses and  shortfalls. But when I came home, suddenly the thought came up that  even without sharing of the capital and revenue shortcomings the interest rates connected with deficiency countries would go up and affect the interest rate of the provident countries. Such matters are not always discussed with the needed frankness. Finance Minister Zalm once opposed  the inclusion of Italy in the Euro Zone. Perhaps his choice of country was in hindsight not the best one, but Zalm’s  willingness to speak openly is laudable and necessary. He should be followed more often.


About dutasia

Former Ambassador of the Netherlands, presently National Commissioner for Thailand and for Indonesia in the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Organization. Chairman of China Carbon Forum in Beijing, China.
This entry was posted in democracy, EUROPE, Europe's relations with other continents, EUROPEAN UNION, European Union enlargement, Migration issues, Turkey, Turkey's campaign for EU accession and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to THE WISDOM OF A STEP BACK …on Schengen and the rest.

  1. Pingback: The wisdom of a step back… on Schengen and the rest (II) | Talpa brusseliensis christiana

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