How Eurocrats created their own fan club

In an extract from his new book, Christopher Snowdon exposes the EU leaders who pay NGOs to support them.

Christopher Snowdon

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The European Commission (EC) has spent 20 years seeking a dialogue with civil society. Between the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the ‘European project’ was characterised by unabashed political elitism, dubbed the ‘Monnet method’ after the European federalist Jean Monnet. The foundations of the European Union (EU) were laid by technocrats who made no claim to be acting in a participatory democracy. It was not until widespread opposition to further political integration broke out in 1991-92, including Denmark’s rejection of Maastricht in a referendum, that EC president Jacques Delors declared that Europe could no longer be ‘an elitist project’ and that ‘the phase of benign despotism’ was over.

With public confidence in the European project waning, the idea of initiating a ‘civil dialogue’ with the public emerged in the mid-1990s as a way of bolstering the EU’s democratic legitimacy. Subsequent referendum defeats and rising Euroscepticism made the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) increasingly eager to engage with civil-society groups to ‘provide a bridge between the expression of the will of the people on specific issues and those that represent them’.

Noting the low turnout at the June 1999 European Parliament elections, the EESC said it was ‘alarmed by “democratic disenchantment” of the EU public who are increasingly sceptical about the workings of political parties and politicians’. The following year, a European Commission Discussion Paper, authored by EC president Romano Prodi and vice-president Neil Kinnock, explicitly stated that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could help politicians achieve their goal of ‘ever-closer union’ by acting as a proxy for public opinion and by promoting European integration at the grassroots…

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