Two interesting examples of blackmailing in politics emerged today.
Iran vs West (click)A hardcore Iranian lawmaker said that Iran could quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if the pressure from the West continues.
Eurocrats vs Czechia (click)Mirek Topolánek, the leader of the Czech center-right ODS party, said that he was effectively told by Jose Barroso that all EU countries but Czechia will have a commissioner if President Klaus doesn't become another puppet of the EU bureaucracy and doesn't sign the Treaty of Lisbon. ;-)
These are cute stories because it must be completely clear what these threats can mean and what they cannot mean.
Iran: a confession
In the case of Iran, we're being assured that Iran is an untrustworthy country that is always ready to spit on the treaties - a country whose word cannot be taken seriously. Even if it turned out that their nuclear facilities are designed to obtain nuclear energy, such a conclusion can change at any moment.
Assuming that the Iranian lawmaker knows much more about the true state of the Iranian nuclear program than most of us do, his threat may also be viewed as a confession of their struggle to develop a nuclear bomb.
If these efforts wouldn't exist, it would be completely unphysical for Iran and the world to quit the non-proliferation treaty. ;-) In other words, if this particular politician is representative enough, Iran should already be treated as a country that is secretly developing a nuclear bomb.
EU: childish threats
The president of Iran is a bastard but he is probably a potent politician and strategist. That's not the case of the Eurocrats whose influence is not based on their real skills but on the lethargy of a majority of the Europeans.
The former Czech prime minister was told that if the ratification process of the Treaty of Lisbon is not completed in the Czech Republic, the country will lose its only seat in the European Commission.
Today, Czech senators have submitted a new complaint to the Czech Constitutional Court: see a detailed analysis of the complaint. Unlike the previous one, the court should analyze the compatibility of the bulk of the treaty with the Czech constitution, including its paragraphs about the sovereignty.
Previously, the court has ruled that specific controversial paragraphs were "not incompatible" with the constitution. It didn't analyze the whole treaty and it won't do it now, either. The new request only questions a "large part" of the treaty because the senators want to be able to submit one more complaint in the future.
Of course, the goal is to kill the terrible treaty by blocking its ratification through Spring 2010 when the Labour Party could lose the U.K. elections and the Tories could ask the Britons about the treaty in the referendum which would be rather unlikely to say "Yes". ;-)
Obviously, the Eurocrats understand this plan as well. They don't like it. As any other bureaucrats, they care about their feeding troughs, so they're looking for ways to force President Klaus to sign the treaty. But their chosen strategy seems rather childish.
Why it's childish
According to the currently valid basic treaty of the EU, the Treaty of Nice, the number of commissioners should be reduced below 27 once the number of member states reaches 27. Well, the EU already has 27 members and the EU commission has 27 commissioners so you can easily see that the EU doesn't obey its own laws at this moment.
But the idea is that the number would have to be reduced after the mandate of the current commission expires, or something like that. The Treaty of Nice is somewhat vague about the question how the commissioners should be chosen. Imagine that no one knows how the government in your country should be selected. Well, yes, already at this very moment, EU is a somewhat undefined mess.
Fine. So the idea conveyed to Mirek Topolánek is that if the Czech Republic blocks the Treaty of Lisbon, it will be the single country who will have no commissioner, because of the requirement from the Treaty of Nice to reduce their number below 27. That's just way too funny.
Let's look in some detail how this could be fixed, which forces actually require which outcomes, and who would be affected by such a bizarre decision.
First, a punishment of a nation for its disagreement with a very controversial treaty - which about 50% of the Europeans also disapprove - by preventing it from having any minister in the common government (ever?) would be a striking symbol of the lack of democracy in the EU.
I think that nothing of the sort has ever happened even in the Soviet Union. I don't think that there has ever been a moment when one nation was understood not to have the right to have ministers in the federal Soviet government. Such a policy of Brussels would invite comparisons of the Eurocrats and Nazis who would have excluded the Jews in a similar way.
Second, despite the striking optical effect, it would be completely inconsequential for the Czech Republic not to have a commissioner. You know, our current commissioner, social democratic politician Mr Vladimír Špidla, may be the most well-paid Czech politician. But his membership in the European Commission is completely useless for the Czech Republic.
Špidla's nationality plays no role for his work. The most spectacular result of his work is that he presented the idea to change the shape of welding safety glasses in the EU, or something like that. ;-) I have once met Špidla in Boston. He participated at a politological conference - even though he knows no English (Jonathan Bolton translated a small part of the proceedings to him). He was pleasant and happy that everyone likes him over there. It's not surprising that they like their Yes-man.
Clearly, Špidla can influence no important question in the EU and it is very questionable whether a more assertive Czech politician who may replace him in the near future (such as Topolánek himself) would be able to make any difference. Whether or not the EU wants to introduce a giant machinery of regulation of the markets or to fight against global warming is not being decided by the generic commissioners like Špidla.
Their job is to propose ludicrous details, such as the project to review the shape of the welding safety glasses. The real power is connected with seats similar to the leaders of France and Germany.
What will happen?
Clearly, the requirement of the Treaty of Nice could be solved in much easier ways: the treaty could be amended by changing one digit in it; or a circulation mechanism for the commissioners could be introduced which is something that the writers of the Treaty of Nice had in mind (and had to have in mind), anyway. Everyone must be able to see that this is not the real problem here.
The Treaty of Nice was not designed in such a way that Europe would collapse once the number reaches 27, and if any treaty had ever been designed in this way anywhere, it would have proved that something about the mechanisms to write treaties had been rotten for many years.
The real problem is that certain people in the EU simply do not want the democratic laws to be respected when it comes to "really important" questions such as new treaties underlying the EU or the fight against global warming. They simply do want punish the Czech Republic for looking at things from many angles; they want to punish the Czech Republic for having Václav Klaus as its president (and the most trusted political institution).
If you're a Eurocrat, you may be reading this text because you want to know what Klaus will do if you will really act in this non-standard way and threaten the Czech Republic by losing its seat in the European Commission if Klaus doesn't quickly sign the Treaty of Lisbon. What will he do?
Well, I am not Klaus but I think that I understand his logical thinking sufficiently well to say that such threats would play no role in his decisions and they would probably make him more certain that he shouldn't sign the text. Such a "punishment" of the Czech Republic is both inconsequential for the Czech Republic as well as hugely harmful for Klaus's foes in Brussels and especially their democratic credentials.
So it is a win-win situation and the right answer is, obviously, that Klaus shouldn't sign the Treaty of Lisbon under such rules.
Fine. Imagine that you are one of the more intelligent Eurocrats and you have understood that this type of blackmailing is childish. Can you invent a better, more efficient threat to force Klaus to sign the text? ;-)
I am afraid that the answer is No. The reason is very simple. Right now, the EU is simply not "giving" Czechia too much critically good stuff - in particular, the country has become pretty much fiscally neutral as far as the EU budget goes. And if the EU is giving good stuff to Czechia, it is getting something else for it.
Suppressing such things - e.g. trade - would clearly be bad for both sides so it is not a good idea for politicians in other countries to harm the Czech Republic for its continuing ability to think about the issues. So if you're looking for better threats, there can't be any better solution "for free". A punishment of the Czech Republic is guaranteed to hurt your democratic credentials as well as well-being of your countries.
You know, there are good aspects of the EU - such as the common market - and they are shared because they're good for both (or all) sides. If someone wants to promote decisions that are only good for one side, he's a net negative for the European Union.
As a Eurocrat, you may want to be annoyed by the Czech Republic, its predominant skepticism about global warming and all kinds of similar politically correct fads that you and your companions began to worship. So you may want to "push" the Czech Republic out of the European Union. Is it a good idea?
Well, it is not such a good idea. The Czech Republic is - both geographically and ideologically - in the very heart of Europe. Its economy is open, most of its citizens are tolerant to many things and they want to share many parts of their life with the other Europeans. The Czech Republic is no "Europhobic" country.
If you're one of the Eurocrats who is inventing better threats against Klaus, it is actually you and not the Czechs who shouldn't be in the European Union because your way of thinking has nothing to do with the European values - with freedom of thought, democracy, and rational thinking about problems.
Instead of a threat, you may try to offer Václav Klaus the seat of the European president. He's the only European politician who is quite ready for it and such an offer could change his thinking about the Lisbon Treaty. If that's too much for you and you want to continue with threats, the best threat I can recommend you is to declare that if Klaus doesn't sign the Treaty of Lisbon, you will leave the EU and offer your services to a better country such as Cuba or North Korea. That's a good replacement for the childish threats you have invented so far.
And hurry up. ;-)