Latest from Brussels

12 June 2005
Just back from Brussels. I was at a meeting where members of the Club de Madrid were advancing their Madrid Agenda on confronting terrorism through democratic means “at the European level”. Both The Council of Europe and Amnesty International’s European office circulated documents. The Council of Europe has 46 member states in a loose alliance (which has to be distinguished from The Council of Ministers of the European Union, of which more in a moment). The Council of Europe document sets out a now familiar back-footed approach that the everything must be done to defeat terrorism provided that the measures are lawful and do not include the use torture. The Amnesty International response available on its website is refreshingly more combative. It argues that it is the breach of human rights that creates the risk to our security. What’s needed is a far more vigorous pursuit of human rights in response to the attack on secular and constitutional values by terrorists. This argument applies to the wholesale moves to secure biometric surveillance now being debated in openDemocracy. As Mary Robinson put it, speaking at a public meeting of the Club de Madrid and the European Policy Centre, we need to “scale up our sense of purpose” if we are to revitalise democracy. I took advantage of being in Brussels to talk to some senior members of the European Commission who serve the Council of Ministers about the impact of the ‘no’ votes. There is a great deal of denial and sleepwalking, and little recognition that the whole political class across Europe, national and continental, has lost legitimacy. It seems that the French ‘non’ was somehow being adjusted for: it was due to Chirac’s unpopularity, or, this is the Blair theory, that Paris has got its economic policy wrong and is not man enough to embrace globalisation. But this does not explain the Dutch vote which has certainly shaken compacency in Brussels. That the Dutch, whose unemployment is relatively low, whose economy s relatively open and competitive, whose people are the most European and linguistically educated of any in Europe, that they should vote two to one against an improved Union defies easy explanation. It can’t be put down to a racial murder however high profile.
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