Adrian Hamilton: If it is European leadership you want, don't start here

On those grounds, it would be best if the Irish did reject the treaty again
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The Independent Online

It doesn't really matter how many grand speeches European leaders make about democracy, the actions of the EU will always gainsay them. Yesterday's vote by the European Parliament to re-appoint the Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a further five years is a case in point.

The deal had been fixed up, with a good deal of grudging compliance, by the leaders of all 27 member states earlier in the summer. Barroso's candidature was presented yesterday to the European Parliament with no alternative on offer and a majority of the votes already fixed.

And so we have the re-appointment of a man whom nobody seems to have any great faith in for the job of the EU's top official at perhaps Europe's most critical moment, with a recession still underway and huge challenges on climate change, energy security and international relations.

This is meant as no especial insult to Barroso, a former centre-right prime minister of Portugal who has done his limited best to weave his way through the tangled politics of the new "Constitution" and its rejection by the Irish, French and Dutch electorates.

But the simple reality remains that he was first chosen as Commission President five years ago because Europe's powers couldn't agree on any of the alternatives. He was re-elected this time because the leaders still couldn't agree on anyone else (although President Sarkozy pushed strongly enough for a Frenchman) while the left-of-centre parties in the Parliament couldn't come up with a viable candidate of their own.

You can't blame it all on Europe. You only have to look at Britain's quangocracy to know that any job that requires consensus will tend to produce not the best person, but the least offensive. A coven of 27 leaders each looking on the EU as a place of patronage for national candidates is not going to plump for an outstanding head of the bureaucracy who would almost inevitably turn round and challenge them.

One might have expected a bit more fight from the European Parliament, given the way the MEPs keep talking of their role in making Brussels more accountable. But, looking at the low esteem with which MEPs are regarded back home, it is perhaps understandable that they proved quite so ineffective. The Tory party's expulsion this week of their over-independent MEP, Edward McMillan-Scott, is a demonstration of just how far Europe is regarded as a dangerous distraction at least in London.

But the EU isn't just a distraction. At this moment is has become, wittingly or unwittingly, the natural and most effective association for developing a common policy on economic recovery, environmental targets and foreign policy initiative and, for that matter, defence and security.

It's a madness at this point to re-appoint a chief executive who cannot drive the institution forward at the very least in terms of the implementation of agreed policy in these areas. But then it could be said to be an even greater madness to keep pushing, as the EU leaders are, a constitutional treaty that has been so clearly rejected by the Irish in one referendum and that, on every opinion poll, garners no enthusiasm amongst Europe's populations at large.

The argument is that the Lisbon treaty needs to be ratified and the Irish to vote again (they do so on 2 October) for Europe to be able to press ahead at all. It's nonsense. The EU has continued without the treaty these last years and could go on doing so now, provided it had active political leadership.

Indeed, if it is a concerted drive towards the future that you want in Europe, then it would be best if the Irish did reject the treaty a second time. That, at least, would force the heads of Europe to get their act together in response. Without it, we're back to the bad old ways of doing things – the backroom deals over appointments, the watered-down policies and the aimless bureaucracy. After Barrosa we'll get the manoeuvring over the European presidency and the new foreign minister and we'll end up in just the same way, with the lowest common denominator candidate.

In the meantime the Irish are being bullied into voting yes on the entirely specious grounds of a few meaningless concessions which everyone knows to be a sham.

As with the Barrosa's re-appointment, the EU establishment will probably get its way with the Irish. Their finances in a state of collapse, most of them are likely to vote for the referendum on grounds of safety if nothing else. But it's a profoundly dispriting move that will do nothing to fill the democratic deficit that so betrays the European project. And it will be greeted – not least in London – not as the means to a revived Europe but as a way of getting Europe off the agenda.