When democracy ends

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 October, 2023 at 2:20 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last week I penned an article about the distant dream of a two-state solution. Also, I wrote about the responsibilities of the presidents of the European Commission of the European Parliament. Plainly, I focused more on the European Commission and the remit of President Ursula von der Leyen. And I did so because the president of the European Commission, as the guardian of the treaty,  must pay strict attention about her remit.

Undoubtedly, it is only legit to examine the behaviour of President von der Leyen when it comes to geopolitical Europe or how she called it in her State of the Union speech, a geopolitical Commission. When President von der Leyen landed in Israel to assess the situation on the ground, instantly, I realised that she was about to mess it up once again. President von der Leyen’s facial expression reminded me of one of our annoying classmates in primary school, who always tried to impress our teacher with her neat copy books to perhaps earn a star. What’s sad is that we are not in primary school anymore. Surely, I was hoping that President von der Leyen keeps either mum or else what is agreed behind closed doors, is articulated succinctly to the media, without sending any wrong messages. Well, none of all this happened. Actually, she did the opposite. Worse, President von der Leyen posed for photos donned in a grey bulletproof vest, reminiscent of Demi Moore’s movie G.I. Jane.  

Uncanny as it may sound, during the same week, we launched a book entitled Dak li ma Qalulekx (What you were not told) authored by Darren Agius. Essentially, the contents of the book outline the behaviour of President von der Leyen vis-à-vis the handling of the war in Ukraine, whereby her pushy behaviour roped everyone into the equation – even exploiting the pandemic vacuum – and generally going contrary to certain Council’s positions. When I sat for the interview, I tried to be as lenient as possible in my replies. However, I did say that the way Ursula von der Leyen pushed for sanctions, and their announcements, were akin to playing bingo with Europe’s economy. We all know the economic repercussions and dreadful results. Surely, the effects are here to last longer than envisaged.  

When I sat for the interview, I recounted what happened prior to the invasion of Ukraine, and why diplomacy did not work. Alas, it was in the interest of some to end diplomacy. Essentially, I shied away from being harsh in my replies. However, the day preceding the launch of our book, a former colleague texted me a link of an article from Politico Europe. The contents of the article described how awful the situation has become within the EU and its institutions. It degenerated to an institutional race between political figures. We have a situation where EU capitals are enraged at the president of the EU Commission, even calling her “Queen” von der Leyen. It is true that President von der Leyen turned a laundry room into a bedroom and resides in the EU Commission’s main building. However, the Berlaymont building is not hers just like Buckingham Palace is not the private property of former queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III.

In February 2022, when I started my Facebook page, and eventually this weekly column, I was on my own. The majority of people were not seeing the handling of the war the way I did. The reason why I was seeing things differently, is simply because I was in the midst of the Council negotiations table. Indeed, I know how they think. Unequivocally, when the EU Commission came to the meetings with new suggestions, we always had to ask the reason behind such proposals. Some of my followers were even telling me that I had no clue of how the EU institutions function. Well, I respected and still respect their opinion. Indeed, Sandra Gauci even suggested to wrap me in a Russian flag.

However, without sounding patronising, this is the problem with many politicians around the globe. Just because they appear in a few TV interviews they position themselves as trained politicians. Even worse, if high political figures are oblivious to geopolitics, now that we are living a new era, their place is not to run for EU elections or put to lead an EU institution. Certainly, to become a geopolitical professional, one requires a strong background in economics, political science and international relations. Verily, experience counts. However, a strong economic insight is required, especially in game theory.

When I said that the president of the EU Commission overstepped her remit, it was clear and blatantly shoved in our faces. Personally, I know the risks of what I am writing. After eight years working among them, I can identify a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I know they read such articles and obviously they report them. And surely, I know the risks that I am taking. However, it is not just in private conversations in Brussels that diplomats and staff members complain about the overstepping of President von der Leyen’s job description. Clearly, slashing EU governments out of important decisions and deciding between a small group of allies and advisers by judgement, is tantamount to totalitarian practices akin to Trump’s behaviour in the White House.  

Surely, David Runciman, the author of How democracy ends, who back in 2018 provided an insightful account of the state of our democracies, might wish to consider authoring a second version of the book to examine the behaviour of the highest echelons within the EU institutions. When I said that Ursula von der Leyen had nothing to do with foreign policy, some former staff of the EU Commission believed that she must be the face as the guardian of the treaty. Well, I disagreed, and so did Nathalie Loiseau, a European lawmaker and senior affiliate of the French President’s Renew Europe group, who in a recent post voiced her criticism on X (former Twitter), stating that she cannot understand what the President of the EU Commission has to do with foreign policy, which is clearly not her mandate. Merci beaucoup madame Loiseau for echoing your concern in public.

Clearly, the political face that must represent the EU in such circumstances, is the High Representative Josep Borrell, who is guided by EU foreign ministers and capitals’ positions. President von der Leyen’s insecurities are even more pronounced today. Disappointedly, the European Commission is the same institution that scrutinises the state of our democracies through questionnaires, our national budgets before they are presented to our citizens, as well as the release of EU funds. Well, you might wish to rethink your positions, get your house in order and start analysing your own president’s behaviour before pointing fingers towards EU members states’ authorities when you convene the weekly Hebdo meetings. That is how you prohibit the end of our democracy!

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