The past week offered something resembling a diplomatic crisis as well as a major parliamentary victory.
Last week I was part of a delegation from the European Parliament's Constitutional Committee (called AFCO). The delegation went to Prague, with the purpose of paying an official visit to the country that is taking over the EU presidency. Naively I though that it would be a courtesy visit. But no! I was really mistaken. The underlying agenda of my co-travellers turned out to be to try to threaten/scare/demean the Czech Republic into ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, before taking over the presidency.
Now I also thought that one would follow certain rules for polite behaviour, while travelling as a representative of the EU. I was convinced that people would see themselves as some sort of diplomatic envoys, and thereby constrain themselves somewhat.
I assumed so much, but I got wiser.
The delegation was to meet with the Czech Parliament, Senate and Minister of Foreign Affairs, in said order. The day was to be finished with public debate at the University.
During the meeting with representatives from the Czech Parliament a Liberal British MEP started out by saying that he did not think that the Czech Republic could take over the presidency, if they had not ratified the Treaty.
However the situation is that a case has been brought before the Czech Constitutional Court, because some in the Czech Republic are concerned that the Lisbon Treaty is in conflict with the Czech constitution. And of course neither Parliament nor the senate can ratify the treaty as long as the result of the case is still pending.
Where as everything is: It thought it was quite rude that an MEP seemed to consider himself qualified to criticize a legitimate democratic process as a problem, and at the same time challenge the fundamental principle that all EU countries are equal. Who does he think that he is?
Not only does he in my book break all rules for visitors hospitality he also did not shy away from noting that he thought their President Klaus was almost an imbecile, because he supported the court case and has declared himself and opponent of the Czech Republic handing over the sovereignty that the Lisbon Treaty requires.
During a break I asked another member of our committee if he really thought that the delegation had a mandate to speak in such a way? And I said that I as the opposition considered my self more well behaved and really thought through what I was going to say when representing the EU. He agreed with me, and that was the end of that discussion.
The next place on our list was the Czech senate. The Senate has traditionally been the most critical chamber, when it comes to the Treaty.
Now picture this scenario: We are sitting at an official lunch in the Great Hall and everything begins with courteous words and the exchanging of gifts. And then the untimely "massaging" of the EU-delegation begins. The Czechs however did not give in so easy and the hosts, the president of the Senate's European Affairs Committee and the president of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee, bravely defended themselves.
I was given the floor and held a long speech where I commented on the six points that the Czech Lisbon-court case is centred around, paying special attention to the points that should be debated everywhere:
Where does the balance relating to democratic deficit end? The Parliament gains greater influence in the EU, but at the same time more power is transferred to the EU from the national Parliaments.
What will happen with the whole area of judicial policy, when we allow the EU to legislate there as well?
What will the consequences be for the interpretation of the EU-citizenship that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will gain legal validity with the Treaty?
I said that these were indeed very valid questions to ask and that the Czechs should not let themselves be bullied over them, but that I instead thought that they should be proud to have such self-conscious a democracy.
This triggered a rage from the German conservative (EPP-ED) Elmar Brok. Not only could he not constrain himself from coming with outbursts during my speech – he also followed me around shouting terms of abuse at me, while we were supposed to have a tour of the castle. I politely but firmly said that he had by far crossed the line and ought to constrain himself.
And while all of this happened I had reporter on the phone, who wanted to speak to me about this week's huge victory in the protection of groundwater.
Try to picture this: A snorting, sweating and shouting German following a very pregnant woman around the Senate in Prague during an official visit. It was so embarrassing! Well not to me, but for the EU that thought that it had to lecture the Czech Republic on them not having the strength or the dignity to take over the presidency. Yes some even said that it would be best if they would just leave the presidency to the French for another term. They even threatened that it was just this kind of problems from a small country that could lead to the abolishing of the rotating presidency and the introduction of a permanent presidency, consisting of the six largest countries. I think it was a German who said it.
Now one thing is the embarrassing moment, who also forces you to laugh a bit. At the end I entered a room and insisted that Brok did not follow me anymore and then he finally stopped.
But a whole other thing is the political seriousness of the situation. We are about to approve a Treaty that through the concept of double majority in the Council transfers more power to the largest countries in the EU. We are in the process of introducing a treaty that strips all countries of the right to have a Commissioner. When one of the smaller countries dares to worry about this, they are told not to. We are told that the EU is built on the principle that all are equal and that it will be a fair and rotating cooperation we will get.
But at the same time the EU so clearly demonstrates it's more shadowy side: A small country can be bullied, threatened and insulted without any problems. I wonder if our Prime Minister and Minister of foreign Affairs was really just sitting like a couple of stupid sheep, when they years ago had to tell the rest of the countries that Denmark unfortunately could not ratify the Maastricht Treaty, because to many Danes had voted No. I wonder if there is a textbook for upper-level ministers called: For Gods sake do not think you are anything when it comes to the EU! It will only get embarrassing when they tell you that" you and your pathetic people might have had a democratic referendum – but we don't care! Because we are the EU!"
Well, I'll just end this entry with the victory, just so it won't get too sad. This week we passed two-thirds of an amendment to the Pesticide-directive. It is hard and skill full work by Jens-Peter Bonde and Bent Hindrup Andersen that I have tried to continue, and it allows us to protect the Danish groundwater for the future. Three small lines in a law turn out to make all the difference. So from the large treaty to the small law, from crisis to victory, and from abstract discussions on democracy to very concrete political work.