Monday, March 14, 2011

Cruel and cunning: Van Rompuy's true face

Conspiracy theorists make me laugh. So when I’m in need of comic relief, I occasionally check out the website of Jim Corr, knowing that its contents are a lot more entertaining than the music of his banal pop group The Corrs. For a number of years, Corr has been spouting pseudo-scientific gobbledegook in an attempt to persuade the gullible that man-made global warming is a hoax and that the collapse of the World Trade Centre wasn’t actually caused by the planes flown into it.

Just because conspiracy theorists are nearly always wrong doesn’t mean everything they say should be dismissed. A dedicated bunch of researchers and bloggers have made it their task to follow the activities of the Bilderberg Group, that bunch of businessmen and politicians which meets in top secrecy on an annual basis. Some of these researchers – like the Italian MEP Mario Borghezio – belong to the extreme-right and should be denounced as racist opportunists. Yet while warnings about the Bilberbergers wanting to create a new world government might be far-fetched, there are solid reasons to be wary of what they are up to.

Any club of the wealthy and powerful which seeks to avoid scrutiny is by definition a threat to democracy. And so it is correct that questions were asked about why Herman Van Rompuy dined at a Bilderberg event near Brussels shortly before he was appointed the first full-time president of the European Council in November 2009. If nothing else, his attendance at the exclusive gathering indicates he is more eager to please Goldman Sachs and Shell than the 500 million mere mortals who live in the EU.

Van Rompuy’s behaviour since taking up office further signals that equality is not high on his list of concerns. Even though he trousers €25,000 per month – more than Barack Obama’s salary – he has the insolence to argue that the wages paid to ordinary workers should be kept under control. In a paper he prepared recently in tandem with José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission chief, Van Rompuy advocates that a system should be put in place whereby wage levels can be reduced if they are viewed as inimical to “competitiveness”. The two overpaid men also hope their system will lead to a higher retirement age.

Reading their plan, I was half expecting it to be titled “A Modest Proposal”. For it bears similarities to the thinking behind Jonathan Swift’s 1729 tract of that name, which recommended that the poor should eat their own children. The key difference, of course, is that Swift was being satirical, whereas the pair of unelected presidents are deadly serious.

It is instructive that their “modest proposal” focuses on the cost of labour. This illustrates that they are only interested in cutting the pay of the average worker, not the exorbitant salaries and bonuses offered to their Bilderberg buddies. And isn’t there something sadistic about how mainstream politicians are so fixated on raising the retirement age? The fact that people are living longer than ever before is one of Europe’s most awesome achievements. But instead of celebrating it, our rulers talk about people who manage to avoid kicking the bucket as a “pensions time-bomb”? Why shouldn’t we be able to draw down our pensions at 65 (or even earlier) and look forward to a lengthy and healthy retirement?

Visiting Budapest in December last, Van Rompuy paid a clumsy tribute to the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai. It was fitting, he said, that Márai had spent time in 1920s Frankfurt meditating on whether there were some intellectuals who identified more with Europe than with their own home countries, given that the German city now hosts the European Central Bank. According to Van Rompuy, the ECB is “the institution at the heart of Europe’s new political identity”.

Is that what Europe amounts to: a vast landmass controlled by a bank? If that’s true, then European citizens need to pay attention to the battle for labour rights in Wisconsin and start demanding back the powers we have ceded to a pin-striped cult.

Jean-Claude Trichet – the ECB head and another Bilderberger, as it happens - has been echoing Van Rompuy. Earlier this month, Trichet told EU governments that the “priority must be to enhance wage flexibility”. In layperson’s terms, that means the working poor should be made poorer.

Economics derives from the Greek term “oikonomia”, which means management of a household. No head of household would be satisfied if the price of keeping costs low was that everyone in the family was miserable. Van Rompuy should be ashamed of himself, then, for using a trip to Bucharest last month to say he is “delighted that Romania has turned the corner economically”. Under pressure from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, Romania has introduced some of the cruellest cuts in Europe recently. Public sector wages have been slashed by 25% and – contrary to the rosy picture painted by Van Rompuy – Romania remains in severe difficulty.

Nigel Farage, the idiotic MEP with the UK Independence Party, provoked an uproar in 2010 when he alleged Van Rompuy had “the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”. Hurling insults based on how somebody looks is unbecoming of a politician. And besides, Van Rompuy is no low-grade bank clerk. He is a right-leaning ideologue with a lot of influence. And he is using that influence to cause huge pain in the real world.

·First published by New Europe (, 13-19 March 2011

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