When is a sensation not a sensation? When the European Commission
resigns en masse after receiving a damning report on fraud and nepotism
within its ranks. Edith Cresson, the most seriously criticised,
obviously thinks she has done nothing wrong and may be renominated by
Commission president Jacques Santer, who proclaimed himself whiter than
white, is now virtually ensured a seat in the Euro-Parliament. Sir Leon
Brittan and Neil Kinnock, the UK commissioners, failed to accept
managerial responsibility for the mess and obviously initially hoped to
be allowed to perpetuate their mismanagement.
The process of replacing the old, tarnished commission with a new one
proceeds on time-honoured lines: Europe is scoured for failed
politicians preparatory to the usual horse-trading to find an acceptable
The rest, good, bad and indifferent,will be placed in their well
upholstered chairs by the nominating member-states. And the unmitigated
mess will continue.
How would you go about restoring the EU’s reputation? More to the point,
is the EU’s Augean stable susceptible to cleansing by PR? I think we
should ask ourselves these questions before the Commission starts
offering telephone-number contracts, paid in euros, of course, to PR
companies to restore its image.
It is true that the EU is better than making war. It has succeeded
brilliantly in avoiding that among traditionally warring nations. It has
helped to promote freer trade, although member states are still horribly
protectionist towards each other and the outside world.
But it is also undemocratic, bureaucratic, endlessly interfering,
profligate, riddled with fraud, utterly pretentious in world affairs and
about as much use in an international crisis - witness the Gulf and the
Balkans - as President Clinton would be in a marriage guidance
The EU’s real problem is that it consistently seeks to kid the public
that elected politicians will control the Commission when it has the
power to initiate law-making. It pretends that nation states can be
governed by two parliaments - their own and the Euro-Assembly -
regardless of national pride and interests. And it is now trying to
float a political currency rather than one underpinned by economic
reality as a stepping stone to a single super-state.
No PR can save this institution until it acquires a certain modesty and
recognises that it would do better to build slowly on truly free trade
and effective co-operation between national states with pukka civil
service (not an alternative government in the form of a Commission)
firmly under the control of national governments. Until then, take your
PR contracts if you must - if the French don’t grab them first - but
don’t expect much success.