News and Research on Europe highlighting Robert Schuman's political, economic, philosophical contribution from the independent Schuman Project Directed by David H Price.
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Robert Schuman's Proposal of 9 May 1950 

Was the Proposal the start of a European Federation?

Europe's democratic institutions
FIVE institutions for Europe

Schuman on Democratic Liberty

What is the difference between a federation or a supranational Community?


WARNING! Counterfeiters of European History OFFICIALLY at Work! 

What did Schuman say about post-Soviet Europe? 


EU's ENERGY non-policy 

 How to manage disastrous CLIMATE    CHANGE 

Europe's Geography already extends worldwide!  
Is Turkey European? Is Cyprus? Is Russia?   

  Enlargement: long awaited! Collect EU's 5 keys 



The European Commission has announced its adoption of the technical specifications for a biometric passport. This will store not only the picture of the holder’s face (which has electronically measured characteristics) but also two fingerprints stored electronically on a chip. Experts say data security is unbreakable. Only the electronic passport reader, they say, can retrieve this data. It will be compared with the face and the fingerprints of the holder as he or she passes through the border control. The reader-machines do not store and register data, they say, therefore personal data is safe.

The experts may congratulate themselves on the technical advance. But many people find it repugnant to have their fingerprints taken. For them only criminals have their fingerprints taken. Forcing the whole population to have their fingerprints taken makes them feel morally suspect. The Commission Vice-president Franco Frattini, however, says he is ‘particularly proud’ that about this ‘key step forward to render passports of EU citizens more secure and reliable.’  The harmonized introduction of biometric identifiers in EU passports will also ensure that the identity of the holder can be easily established and will protect against identity fraud. Placing intimate personal details into the hands of anonymous officials requires trust. In a democracy trust is built after full consultation of all levels of society and before such data is given to officials.

Let us examine the measure in the light of the criteria that Robert Schuman set for European democracy. European laws should, he said, ‘be in the service of the people and made in agreement with it.’  Europe is based on both fundamental freedoms and service.

What service does the storage of intimate personal data provide? It helps the airlines and the passport officers process the traffic more quickly. If a passport is stolen it apparently makes identity fraud more difficult by using two cryptic keys necessary for reading it. Such sophistication makes the trade in false passports more difficult.

European passport and liberty
In the historic debates on the European passports in the 1940s and 1950s, the main criteria were to make travel more easy, reduce governmental blockage at borders and to give people a feeling of belonging to a Community or union of sovereign democracies. In short to recuperate lost liberties. Any changes in the passport regime should be judged according to how it increases people's liberty.

Before the First World War people could enter and leave most foreign countries without a passport. We have still not regained this level of mutual trust. A passport was originally granted by countries at war as the means to assure the protection of persons and property. Even during European wars, scientists of belligerent powers were able to meet. Passports should not be preserved as an unhelpful symbol of selfish exclusion.

The European founders wanted to regain these freedoms and break down unnecessary barriers. They established the Council of Europe in 1949. Schuman and the other founders set the ultimate goal: get rid of passports. 'Why create a European passport,' asked Britain's Ernest Bevin. 'Wouldn't it be simpler and more efficient to eliminate all existing passports?' The first efforts to make common passports were held up by committees of national ‘experts on passports’. Italy's Count Sforza said prophetically: 'What on earth are 'passport experts'? If you put administrative people who make them inside a committee, you will never solve the problem. They will show that it is impossible to get rid of passports!'  Sure enough, it reached a bureaucratic logjam. Then some enlightened politicians including Belgium’s Paul-Henri Spaak insisted that the technocratic horse should not be leading the political riders. ‘Once democratic politicians have decided that something must be done, experts have the duty to find the means to do it. If they raise technical objections, they must then find the remedies.’ However the committee of experts had started complicating matters which both ministers and parliamentarians had just succeeded in simplifying. 'Passport experts' became guardians of this technocratic heritage. 

The real cost
Today the Commission estimates that the introduction of these new passports will cost the citizen multiple times the price of the present ones. In the EU the cost of traditional passports vary from 20 euros in Spain to 120 euros in Denmark. The Germans have introduced only the first stage of the new passports (without the fingerprints). The cost of German passports has more than doubled from 26 euros to 59. The second stage raises the cost even higher. Why national prices should vary so much is another question.

Any move to serve the citizens with the new passports is welcome. But what will be the advantage to the citizen of expensive electonic passports? How will they serve him or her? Although civil servants at the borders are also there to serve, making the life easier for officials at a high cost to the citizen is not what Schuman meant by serving the people. Is Europe's goal for passports still their programmed elimination? Who has spoken on this policy? 

If even half of the European population need and have to buy the new passports it will cost tens of billions of euros. That is like an extra tax, restricting travel, commerce and human contact. This democratic debt has to be justified by a bonus for democracy, service and liberty. Where is it?

Will the new passports provide extra security against terrorism? It is always easy for governments to cry ‘Terror’ and bring in measures that do not actually help. If terrorists come from rogue States then it is unlikely that any fancy passport electronics will help. Governments with their multi-million-euro budget can always buy the technology on black markets, by theft, bribery or corruption. Even friendly States have entire departments that arrange false passports for intelligence operatives. Does anyone expect that none of the countries that wish to spy on the EU, take its commercial or military secrets or do it mischief will not get the technology to make the new high-grade passports and forge them for their own use?

Non-democratic countries have no compunctions. It would be invidious to go into details on the nature of how democracies themselves do this same counterfeiting job. Suffice it to recall the case of France, a country that prides itself in the rights of man. It used fake passports of Switzerland, a neutral country that takes a totally non-aggressive posture, to disguise its secret agents. These ‘Swiss’ passport-holders entered on New Zealand territory, another small, peaceful country. The agents then destroyed a ship about to protest nuclear bomb tests elsewhere, thus killing one person. If Swiss passports are not safe from other democracies, what passports are safe from hostile countries?
Major effort will be made by outside countries to provide their agents with EU passports. Once cracked, and a fake is produced, the road is open for criminals and other elements to buy, steal or produce such counterfeits. The long history of passport frauds tells us that it is not the passports themselves that are so often copied but authentic passports are sold by corrupt officials or modified for ready buyers. Governments have lost sight of the original purpose of passports. They too often deal with symptoms rather than the source of the problem, whether passport thefts, immigration problems or crime.

Further, terrorists are now too often ‘home-grown’. They do not need passports as they are already EU citizens. If the main reason to introduce the passports was to prevent terrorism, then it means that 99.9999 percent of the population is paying a considerable amount extra for a security service that is here irrelevant and proved to be futile.

Agreement of the people
What of the second part of Schuman’s criteria for a democracy? Was this passport brought in with the full ‘agreement of the people’? The decision of the ministers was not taken under the full Community rules of democratic consultation. Instead experts decide under an inter-governmental deal involving ‘comitology’. It is designed to escape even the usual reduced democratic controls of the EU. No Parliament agreement is necessary. The Consultative Committees are not asked for an Opinion either. It remains one sided. Ministers have not even agreed to Commission proposals to protect citizens’ rights about how to prevent the misuse of the fingerprint information. Ministers maintain that the personal data is not stored. But it only takes a few moments reflection on how such a system could be circumvented. One hopes that the experts have thought of all the possibilities too. The weak point of any technocratic system is that it neglects the human factor.

It is precisely the human factor that has been left out of many technology-driven projects. Schuman stressed that democratic politics must prevail over technocracy. Technocracy was Europe’s greatest danger, he said. If the Parliament does not have its full impact on this decision, how can it be in agreement with the people? Even more important in the original treaties are the Consultative Committees such as the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions. Today their members are nominees of government ministers. Membership is agreed in ministers’ secret councils and chosen too often because of their party political cards. Their members should, according to the treaties, be representative of civil society. Patronage is not democratic representation. It is, as Schuman put it, a counterfeit. ‘Nothing is easier for political counterfeiters to exploit good principles for an illusion and nothing is more disastrous than good principles badly applied.’

Consult the people
The Consultative Committees need to present legitimate views of industries, services, unionists and all consumer groups in general. It is these critical ‘interest groups’ that can really identify the unforeseen consequences of each governmental decision. Experts in passports do not always have a penetrating view about the complex, social and economic consequences of high technology in all sectors and areas of Europe and what happens when equipment goes wrong in unexpected circumstances. For many experts it is sufficient to say that the equipment is 99.99 percent reliable. However it is often the 0.01 percent that leads to expensive and embarrassing results. For example, Ministers and experts had decades to contemplate a far simpler case: the end of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. However, when they decided to end it, it lead to what the tabloids called the ‘Bra wars’ when major department stores found that their supplies of clothes from China and elsewhere were blocked. If they had asked a properly representative consultative committee, they would not only have saved millions of euros in extra costs but avoided their own red faces.

Democracy involving full consultation should not be a complication for ministers. It is usually the most efficient way to proceed. It should be welcome.

Ask the people.

DAVID PRICE. © 1989, 2006.

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