EU Council Remains All-powerful

Introduction: The 2014 elections to the EU parliament was made the subject of a massive media campaign across EU member-states, maintaining that parliament was now more assertive against Council. Let me give a Swedish example.

Daily, over an entire month, we were bombarded by the media by interviews with individual candidates over what their views were about one thing after another. Most of these came in one-word or two-word replies. Would you vote for adopting the euro? The answer was – inevitably and without a moment’s doubt – “No, never!”.

Listening to this, day after day in apparently endless repetition for all the candidates, made me wonder what was the point of asking these kinds of questions –  or indeed any question addressed to individual candidates for the EU parliament. The decision would anyway be taken by the member states Governments of the day and implemented by the EU Council.

If there was one thing the Reinfeldt Government did right, it was to continue to exploit a loop-hole in the Maastricht Treaty that Sweden alone of all member states have exercised. The original loop-hole was exploited by the Social Democratic Statsminister, Göran Persson, who held office for over a decade between 1996 to 2007.  Read the Wikipedia article on Sweden and the euro.

Much of Sweden’s current prosperity stems from this decision. Sweden has the oldest Central Bank in the world, and its website has much information in English. The Riksbank was founded in 1668. The Swedish edition of The Local has an article about this. See also the terse statement on the EU Website (European Commission), and The Guardian article of 14 Sept 2013, written by the Swedish Director of Open Europe, who happens to be a Swede.

The loop-hole has since been closed by the new clause that makes adopting the euro a compulsory condition of joining the EU: see Wikipedia European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The Harpsund Meeting: Reinfeldt invited several Council members – two from large member states – Angela Merkel (Germany) and David Cameron (UK), who along with Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden) and  Mark Rutte (The Netherlands) were from small member states. Harpsund is the country residence of the Swedish Statsminister, a bit like Chequers in the UK, both being close to their respective capitals. Harpsund also has a special place in Swedish history, as the place where Trades Unions and Employers Association thrashed out their historic compromise agreement. Since the English Wikipedia is so short I quote it all here:

“The oldest parts of the mansion are from the 17th century, but the main building was built first in 1914. The Estate, with its farm and forestry, was donated to the government December 27, 1952 in accordance to the industrialist Carl August Wicander’s will. It was to be used as recreational estate for the Prime Minister of Sweden. The donation was approved by the Swedish parliament May 22, 1953. The estate consists of 4077 acre (16.5 km²). Some adjustments were made in the conditions of the donation, which states that, with the exception of the main building, the estate could be made available to governmental conferences. Harpsund would soon be a venue for informal summits between the government, industry and organizations of Sweden. It was called “Harpsundsdemokrati” (Harpsund Democracy). Through the years many of the world’s leaders have stayed here. Especially noticed was the visit by Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union. It is tradition that guests at the estate take a small trip, with the Prime Minister, in the rowing boat (Harpsundsekan), a tradition introduced by Prime Minister Tage Erlander.”

The image of the rowing boat directly under the Wikipedia text is also a characteristic of the tradition, and, indeed, the three guests have been photographed being rowed in Harpsundseken by Reinfeldt. See this photo, courtesy of Swedish Television:

Why did Reinfeldt invite just these three? There are several possible reasons (apart from the need to fit all four in the rowing boat!). One is that he considers Merkel a key member. It would be really she who must be persuaded. This was the Hidden Agenda that was never mentioned. It is worth reading the Spiegel International two-part article on how Merkel found herself in an awkward position over the Commission President appointment of Junker that David Cameron had explicitly opposed. We now know what she decided, as Junker is in favour of increasing the centralisation of EU power. This, of course, is why David Cameron opposed his appointment.

So the Harpsund meeting was all in vain, and once it became clear that both the German and French Council members would go ahead and support Jean-Claude Junker, Reinfeldt explicitly gave up the  attempt to find a compromise and as a result Sweden and The Netherlands both swung their Council vote in support of Junker. The final vote was supported by all Council members except those of the UK and Hungary, who voted against appointing Junker: unanimous except for David Cameron and Viktor Orbán.

This whole matter shows how the claimed new importance of the EU Parliament was shown to be a sham. The whole process is also a fascinating insight into the power of the EU Council over all major decisions in what is an authoritarian, if not dictatorial, EU.

The EU and the work of Karl Polanyi: Joining the two Americans who were the original “successors” to Polanyi’s work. Polanyi is understood now as the analyst of the 1920s to 1940s age of neoliberalism: see – Margaret Somers and Fred Block – have been joined by a third who happens to be British: Gareth Dale at Brunel University, London. So now the work of Karl Polanyi, a Jewish Hungarian, is being subjected to detailed analysis in relation to the EU as an expression of authoritarian neoliberalism. See and, an outstanding book based on unpublished material which I bought and read when in hospital for a week in early April.

This is made even more relevant by the re-emergence of what is euphemistically dubbed Club Med in which the Mediterranean countries – especially Franco and Mussolini allied with Germany.

See also: Castles, Francis G. and Maurizio Ferrera (1996) “Home Ownership and the Welfare State: Is Southern Europe Different?” South European Society and Politics Vol. 1 No. 2 (Autumn) pp. 163-185

Judith Allen, James Barlow, Jesus Leal, Thomas Maloutas and Liliana Padovani (2004) Housing and Welfare in Southern Europe (Blackwell)

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