Europe is facing one of the most uncertain and crucial periods of its entire history. Its governments and institutions must face up to issues such as bloodthirsty international terrorism and the construction of the future of the Union. And they must do so without a weapon which will be hard to replace: credibility.
Recently we have witnessed, disconcerted, gestures, declarations and promises which have achieved nothing save repeatedly undermining the confidence European citizens have in their Institutions, both national and supranational.
The latest examples of this in the Union were efforts by the Spanish Government to influence information about the people responsible for the terrorist attacks in Madrid on March 11th. It ca be summed up rather sickeningly in this way: the Islamic extremism theory favoured the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) (which refused to support participation in the Iraq war) and ETA’s guilt favoured the Popular Party (which public opinion believed to be tough on national terrorism). Shamefully, the Government wanted to use – by abusing the presumed honesty of Ministers (Popular Party Ministers) – press conferences to benefit the Party before the elections on March 14th.
Even more seriously, the Popular Party also wanted to brainwash the foreign press through the Embassies. A communication from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ana Palacio, encouraged only divulging the version more favourable to the Party’s interests: ETA’s guilt. Why did they feel obliged to bring about the downfall of diplomatic credibility? Faced with the Government’s assertions, scepticism began to creep in and numerous Spaniards, wanting more information, had turned, through the Internet for example, to other European media sources which might have shone some light on these events.
We already witnessed this sort of thing with the deceptive argument used about weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Several European governments put their word on the line. And, then, lost. The final nail in the WMD coffin was screwed in in spectacular fashion: the BBC, up until now at the top of the credibility list, suffered a major blow through their efforts to show that Blair’s Government had lied. And Blair, through his efforts to defend himself, did what he could to end the UN inspectors’ credibility.
Institutions hurt by lies
The conflict within the Union over Iraq has meant that lies have almost become an every day occurrence. NATO, the EU, and the UN did not resist such deception. Today our most important organisations are seriously wounded because they preferred to choose the ease of lies to the irritating complexity of the truth.
Not long ago, in a clear reference to the blows suffered by the Stability Pact, the European Central Bank warned that the euro zone’s credibility was weakening. The European Constitution will erase what was signed months before in the Nice Treaty. Aznar, in an interview with Le Monde recalled that nothing had been achieved at European summits for a long time and doubted Chirac’s abilities. He had already proceeded in such a fashion with Schroeder, who hadn’t been slow in returning the compliment. And in Italy Berlusconi, who in another time would have been an exception, is today the norm thanks to stories like these and so many others.
They all lie. They all openly doubt others, including the murderers of bodies which are still warm. Citizens, lifeless and inert, are starting to look at our Institutions with a mixture of disenchantment, scepticism and indifference. How can you believe in Europe if you can’t believe its leaders? This crisis is about much more that just not believing a press release or a statement. If we don’t trust our legislators we don’t believe in their work or their laws. And if the law loses its value we will start to talk about the destruction of one of the founding pillars on which our society rests.
Robert Bolt, through the mouth of Tomas Moro, in A Man for All Seasons warned us: ‘If you break the law to follow the devil, how will you defend yourself when he counter-attacks?’ On Thursday in Madrid the devil knocked on Europe’s door. What can we do to protect ourselves?