The EU as Moral Tutor
On May 9 there was a court hearing concerning a domestic-violence case in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, one of Armenia’s most socially conservative areas. Activist Robert Aharonian condemned two women’s rights advocates operating under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, part of the Soros network, for promoting “European values”. A man in Armenia “has a right to slap his wife,” he claimed. He opposes all those diaspora Armenians who use NGO grants to operate in Armenia, and “advocate European perversion.” Allowing wives to report their husbands to the police, he asserted, ultimately breaks families apart. Armenia wants to join the EU so has to pay lip service to “European values”.
The EU presents itself as a moral model to the world. The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
One wonders how this will play given the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament (EP), where a number of far right parties scored big successes on low turnouts. Some wag answered the question:”What are European values?” thus. “Appeasement, bureaucracy, group-think, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and not having babies.”
The values that the EU claims for itself are set out in Article I-2 of the Constitution and are supposed to be common to all member states. These values are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. Any European state wishing to become a member of the EU must respect these. Any member state not meeting these criteria can, in theory, be kicked out.
The Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous “four freedoms”) and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.
Nationalism raised its ugly head in the EP elections and many who do not believe in the “free movement of persons” won seats. Last week, I wrote about the problems many states will have because of declining fertility rates. If Europeans are not having enough babies, they will have to import workers to do the dirty jobs and to pay into their pension fund. Even when they admit this, right-wingers, like the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, do not like it: “Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It’s impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in…that would be an economic solution, but it’s not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization.”
If one looks at the treatment of Roma in Belfast as well as Bucharest, one can see that even the free movement of EU citizens within the EU is not universally welcomed. Many people in Western Europe feel little kinship with Bulgaria and Romania, which is why most west European governments limited the right to work of Bulgarians and Romanians.
One Spaniard was not too happy about the freedom of Britons to move around Europe: “I used to live on a beautiful section of coast. Now I live next to a nasty urbanization, full of English people who buy from themselves, drink English beer in English bars, visit English doctors and eat an abomination called Pukka Pies. Their refusing to learn even the most basic of Spanish is famous here, and even if I wanted to go to ‘The Queen Vic’, I won’t because they only have menus in English and German.”
Many EU states helped with the movement of people when GW Bush wanted to torture them. A report published in 2013 by the Open Society entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition revealed that, of pre-2004 EU states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands –did not cooperate with the rendition programme, in which suspects were picked off the streets and secretly flown from country to country to be tortured. Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to transfer terror suspects secretly at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Mubarak’s soundproof cells in Egypt. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.
At the time the report was written, legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations were pending against Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania before the European Court of Human Rights.
The Open Society report concludes: “by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture.” How does that fit with European values?
Many Sri Lankans take a masochistic pride in the corruption of their politicians. Sorry chaps, but Sri Lankans are mere minnows compared to the Grand Panjandrums of Europe. The human rights of Europeans are seriously undermined by the endemic graft and thievery within the EU.
Some people blame this on enlargement – things got worse when we let those dodgy eastern Europeans in. Optimists hope that the magic wand of western European values will reduce the corruption of these shady newcomers and one day do the same for the Western Balkans and Turkey, and perhaps even Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.
Unfortunately, the really big corruption is in the older member states and the culprits are senior statesmen.
Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor for sixteen years. He took two million in illegal donations. When he was exposed, he refused to reveal donors’ names for fear of revealing the favours they had bought. Gerhard Schröder guaranteed a billion-euro loan to Gazprom for the building of a Baltic pipeline. A few weeks after leaving government, he was working for Gazprom at a salary larger than the one he received as Chancellor. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen two presidents of the Republic in succession forced to resign under a cloud of corruption.
Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic for twelve years, was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of office and conflicts of interest. Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly took some $20 million from Gaddafi for the electoral campaign that won him the presidency. Christine Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, is under interrogation for her role in the award of €420 million in “compensation” to a friend of Sarkozy, Bernard Tapie, a well-known crook with a prison record. The socialist minister for the budget, Jérôme Cahuzac, whose brief was to uphold fiscal probity and equity, had €15 million in hidden deposits in Switzerland and Singapore.
In Britain, Blair lied to Parliament about £1 million paid into party coffers by racing car magnate Bernie Ecclestone, currently under indictment in Bavaria for bribes of €33 million. Currently, Blair takes cash from a South Korean oil company run by a convicted felon with interests in Iraq and the feudal dynasty of Kuwait. He also does PR for the Nazarbaev dictatorship in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record would not meet EU standards.
In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, as well as allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for its torture programme, channelled into his bank account more than €400,000 in unexplained payments before becoming Taoiseach. He then voted himself the highest salary of any premier in Europe – €310,000, more even than the US president – a year before having to resign. Even after his disgrace, he wangled himself a handsome pension and generous expenses. In 2011, €8.8 million of taxpayers’ money was paid out in pensions for 109 former ministers, Ahern topping the list with €152,331.
On a public appearance at a ploughing contest, Bertie was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators saw the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation of corruption at the top. Daniel Finn in the New Left Review, described Bertie Ahern as “A shrewd political operator with a gift for speaking at length without supplying his audience with any information”. At a corruption tribunal, Ahern’s testimony was described as “rambling and incoherent” and he changed his story so many times some of it had to be lies. Polls showed that less than one-third of voters believed him. Last November, a drunken man attacked Ahern with a crutch inside the Sean O’Casey bar just off O’Connell Street. Ahern declined to talk about the attack, which came three years after number of customers in another Dublin pub verbally abused him.
The European Value of Impunity
Bankers and leading politicians do not usually go to prison. Elites can enrich themselves without fear of retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes the only real value in political life. When it all goes wrong, the public has to pay by bailing out the banks and the state and by enduring austerity measures. Austerity is not thrift, which is generally seen as a morally virtuous. Austerity benefits the already very wealthy, who can profit from cheaper asset prices by picking them up now and selling them later. That is European value.