I’ve always suspected that the European Commission was something of an elite outfit. But in the last two weeks, I’ve been granted an unexpected firsthand insight into the Commission’s commitment to democratic debate.
This somewhat bizarre episode began a couple of weeks ago, when a journalist from the Brussels-based tv channel Euronews rang up me up and asked if I would be willing to debate with the Director-General of the Home Affairs Directorate in a programme due to be broadcast next month about migrants in North Africa.
I don’t get requests like that very often, I can tell you. But I’ve written about the dire conditions experienced by migrants in Morocco and the Spanish exclaves in Melilla and Ceuta in my book Fortress Europe, and I’ve recently read and blogged about the powerful new report by the Jesuit Refugee Service on migrants in North Africa.
So I was happy to do it, especially since the journalist told me that he wanted a critical perspective on this issue, and didn’t want the Director-General to simply spout the official line unchallenged. The only possible objection, he said, was that his producer thought there had been too many British men on the programme, and they were keen to have some female speakers. So I suggested some other names they could try, and also some other organizations.
Much to my surprise I got a call a few days later, saying that they still wanted me on the programme, but the Director General’s press office had said he would not appear on it if I was one of the other guests!
Well that was odd, to say the least, given that I’m not exactly known as a major player on the European stage. When I asked what the DG’s objection was, I was told that he didn’t want a ‘political’ debate. I suggested to the journalist that Euronews should not have the content of its shows vetoed, especially on such a crucial issue, and he agreed, and said it was still under discussion.
Further telephone conversations followed, in which I suggested that Euronews ask someone from an NGO, like the Jesuit Refugee Service. They said they would try, and were still considering having me on the show. Then, a few days ago, I got a call saying that my appearance had been definitively vetoed, and that the DG was not even willing to debate with the Jesuit Refugee Service either.
So the upshot, last I heard, is that there will be a studio debate about the EU’s new ‘migration management’ policies in North Africa – between the Home Affairs Director-General … and a representative of the Moroccan government!
All of which is rather disgraceful – and revealing.