Alphen, Netherlands. 18 December. A South African satirist Jonathan Shapiro tells a tale about Nelson Mandela that typifies the great man. In the mid-1990s he had been lampooning then President Mandela savagely in a Cape Town newspaper. One morning Shapiro receives a telephone call from the President. In that wonderfully resonant voice Mandela says, “I am very disappointed in you, Mr Shapiro”. Shapiro fears the worst. “What have I done, Mr President?” “Your cartoons are no longer in the newspaper and I cannot start my day without them,” Mandela replies. “That’s a relief. I thought I had offended you, sir”, Shapiro says. “No not at all.” Mandela replies. “That is your job”. Mandela understood that in a democracy power is held in trust and that the first duty of a leader is to preserve the integrity of leadership.
Contrast that with EU leaders today. This week will see biggest transfer of national sovereignty to counter-democratic EU institutions since the creation of the Euro. What had been billed as an EU summit devoted to European defence has been hijacked to create a Restoration Fund for failing Eurozone banks and to pave the way for European Banking Union. This may sound on the face of it the stuff of Euro-geeks but it is in fact a massive step towards both political and monetary union…and Europe's citizens were not meant to realise it.
The retreat by European leaders from the integrity of leadership is typified by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Knowing Dutch resistance to these plans Rutte reported to the Dutch Parliament this week that the communique from the last EU summit in October had been “mistranslated” from English into Dutch. When he said that there would be no more transfer of sovereign Dutch powers to create a European Banking Union he had meant to say there will be a transfer of more sovereign Dutch powers to Brussels in the form of “politically-binding contracts”.
Beware geeks bearing gifts. Although Britain is not in the Eurozone the implications for the City of London and British banks are profound. At a stroke Frankfurt rather than London will become the banking centre of Europe, which is what Berlin is, er, ‘banking’ on. For the European Central Bank and European Commission to have such powers is a treaty-change in all but name. Deputy Prime Minister and Commission Odysseus Nick Clegg is always telling the British people that any significant shift of more powers to Britain will trigger a “treaty lock”, i.e. a referendum. Not a murmur from Clegg or London. The “treaty lock” is yet another con.
Half union, half empire what is taking place is the dangerous concentration of power in a few elite hands in Europe with unelected bodies given ever more power in the name of the ‘Europe’ and with Germany providing what is left of national oversight. English philosopher John Stuart Mill established a fundamental principle of libertarianism that informed Nelson Mandela’s leadership and which for democracies establishes the fundamental contract between elected leaders and led. The Harm Principle says that “no-one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he chooses provided his acts are not invasive of the free acts of others”. When one replaces democracy with bureaucracy and/or empire one replaces rights with obligations.
With polls suggesting that 30% of the new Parliament could be comprised of Euro-sceptics Brussels is of course warning about ‘populists’ emerging at next May’s elections for the European Parliament. Bring it on! To the Euro-elite anyone who challenges their 'vision' is a populist. Europe desperately needs more checks and balances at the European level because elected national leaders are failing in their first duty to their peoples.
As Rutte demonstrated all too clearly with the marked exception of Germany most European nation-states are fast being stripped of all meaningful sovereignty. Rather, the European Union looks ever more like the failing Roman Republic of the first century in which aristocratic Senators would routinely suggest that whilst they were for the people they were not of the people.
Seen through the light of Mandela’s example the cavalier attitude of Rutte and his fellow EU leaders to democracy, sovereignty and the will of the people is appalling. Madiba’s genius was to be both of the people and demonstrably for the people precisely because he had seen the abuse of power at first hand and understood the vital importance of integrity in leadership.
As the great man once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”. To paraphrase Lincoln’s Gettysberg Address; government for the people, of the people, by the people should not perish from Europe…but with European democracy an empty husk it could soon do so.