European Values and ‘Nomenklatura’

The new confrontation over European Values between Poland and Brussels acting as the proxy for Berlin relates nominally to new Polish laws giving the government the power to appoint chiefs of civil service departments including the chiefs of the public media. It is, simply put, legalizing patronage or ‘Nomenklatura’ practices, but when the media is frankly and openly part of this patronage, official Europe gets very huffy.

European Values and Nomenklatura

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

The headline topic – European Values and Nomenklatura – is big. We shall begin with some small but very concrete pointers that were put up in the comments section by readers of my last essay on the current German-Poland confrontation and then move on progressively to the big picture.

One reader remarked that out of the top three officials of the European Union installed in their posts thanks to strong support from Angela Merkel, two, Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission and Martin Schulz of the European Parliament, are drunkards. That is only half true: Schulz is described today as a ‘reformed’ alcoholic and Tee-totaller. The other comment was that Schulz is an unschooled ignoramus. That is formally correct: he never finished high school in his provincial German town. He owes his brilliant career and present mandate to a gift for foreign languages and…the habit of going along and getting along as a political hack, what those familiar with Communism in Eastern Europe know better as Nomenklatura, here namely the SPD (Social Democrat) team.
Without meaning to be unfair to autodidacts, one may legitimately ask whether a party hack is the right sort of person to preside over the European Parliament where he thinks aloud about subtle issues of rights and morality, where he send out thunderbolts of righteous censure at fellow parliamentarians who do not share his politics. I have seen first-hand one of his barely civil letters threatening with sanctions an MEP who had dared to visit Crimea after its takeover by Russia.

My exchange of emails with the author of the last comment brought out the allegation that Schulz’s case is part of a very broad phenomenon of patronage in Germany that results…as is the case most anywhere in the world… in gross incompetence rising to the top. The example mentioned was Wolfgang Albers, the recently fired police chief of Cologne, who was held responsible for failing to control shocking violence on the square in front of the Cologne Hauptbahnhof on New Year’s eve, and then for mishandling the communications to the public about what actually occurred. Here we have the unconscionable news blackout for five days and the initial statements that no asylum-seekers were among those who committed assaults. Albers was simply toeing the party line that Germany must open its arms to refugees, almost without regard to their numbers and to the capability of the authorities to process and provide for them, almost without regard to who they actually may be.

For those interested in understanding what was wrong with Wolfgang Albers, the English edition of his pages in Wikipedia will not give you a clue. There his career seems meritorious: a law school graduate who advanced through regional Ministry of Interior offices and positions as city police chief in ever larger cities. To get to the bottom of the problem, you have to consult the German edition of Wikipedia, which turns the black and white facts to living color by adding the political party dimension of his career.

From this edition, it is clear that Albers did not rise in a non-political civil service. On the contrary, at each turn he was promoted by senior politicians in his Socialist Party (SPD). Moreover, upon a bit of reflection, one understands that the position he held in Bonn and then as from 2011 in Cologne as Polizeipräsident is in fact a political post charged with carrying out political tasks of the party in power, beginning with setting out the priorities for policing rather than their technical content and ending with public relations. The public attacks on Albers in Cologne that brought his downfall came after other condemnations of his work as police chief in the city dating from October 2014, when serious errors in handling protesters led to multiple injuries among the police forces.

The question that arises from this one case is whether the German police in their present very politicized structure and patronage appointments are in any shape to deal with the growing instability and political conflict between regime loyalists on the one hand and right wing protesters against Merkel’s refugee policy (Pegida and Alternativ fuer Deutschland) on the other. Moreover, is such a police force in any condition to fight terrorists, who surely inserted themselves among the hundreds of thousands of unscreened refugees that have arrived in Germany over the past year?

I do not mean in all of this to single out Germany for having an embedded patronage system. Issues like this rarely make it to the front page of main stream media anywhere in Europe. They are the subject of talk in the street and in closed-door academic symposiums. It was at one of the latter held in Brussels a couple of years ago that I heard from the most authoritative sources, both university-based and NGO-based, about how Nomenklatura in Belgium is the medium for a legal sort of corruption in public services employment and procurement.

The symposium itself was devoted to issues of corruption, where, as we all know, Belgium has an exemplary record, if we choose to believe the Transparency International ratings. However, in fact, the practice of power sharing that Belgian political scientists helped to invent to keep fractious nationalities with their separatist movements together in a federal state, leads to institutionalized patronage and incompetence if not outright embezzlement. As a case in point, the Water Board of Brussels has on its bloated membership, supported by company cars, office and representation expenses, not a single engineer; whereas, a similarly sized city, in the USA, namely Washington, D.C., has a compact and austere Water Board consisting only of water engineers. The upshot is that water rates to households in Brussels are several times higher than in Washington.

However, moving from specifics to a higher level, indeed to the international stage, the issue of patronage and incompetence bears directly on the question of what exactly are European Values and how earnestly do Europeans practice them at home. European Values are precisely what the leaders of the EU have been using as a stick in the ongoing confrontation with Russia which actually broke out a couple of years prior to the takeover of Crimea. And, curiously, nonobservance of European Values is the charge being pressed from Brussels against Poland, a paid-up Member State of the EU, in a growing and bitter confrontation with its allegedly recidivist, authoritarian new government.

On the sidelines of symposiums, I have heard leading European politicians admit that European Values are not a sound basis for conducting foreign policy. The highest ranking such official who made this remarkable admission in my presence was Austria’s Hannes Swoboda, now retired, but up until 2014 the Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, one of the two centrist blocs controlling the European Parliament. If I may paraphrase Swoboda in remarks made at a Varna conference this past spring outside any restrictions of Chatham House rules, it is life which dictates striking compromises with less democratic countries. If one does business with China and Saudi Arabia to pursue common interests, the argument goes, why should one turn up one’s nose at Russia?

However, Swoboda and like-minded pragmatists in high places insist that within the European Union the Values must be enforced as they are crucial to its core mission. Their underlying conviction, and it is an ideological postulate, not a proven fact of political or any other science, is that democracies can live in peace only with fellow democracies.

The new confrontation over European Values between Poland and Brussels acting as the proxy for Berlin relates nominally to new Polish laws giving the government the power to appoint chiefs of civil service departments including the chiefs of the public media. It is, simply put, legalizing patronage or Nomenklatura practices, but when the media is frankly and openly part of this patronage, official Europe gets very huffy.

In response to threats from the EU Commission to put Poland under its tutelage or “supervision” to monitor its compliance with Rule of Law provisions of the EU acquis, the Polish government has gotten huffy in turn. One politician was quoted at length in the country’s leading daily newspaper, the Gazeta Wyborcza, telling the Germans that their beastly past has disqualified them for two generations to come from passing any judgment on Polish democracy and domestic legislation.

The popular Polish weekly magazine Wprost has just published on its front page a montage photograph of Europe’s masters of the universe “supervising” Poland. Here we see Angela Merkel, Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker, Guenther Oettinger and Guy Verhofstadt dressed in Nazi uniforms and inspecting what is presumably a map under the caption “Once again they want TO OVERSEE POLAND.” 

For those unfamiliar with Verhofstadt, he is the former Belgian Prime Minister and current chief of the neo-Liberal bloc in the European Parliament that is a leading fighter for human rights and democracy worldwide. It bears mention that Verhofstadt is a long time meddler in Russian affairs as a comrade-in-arms of ‘dissident’ politicians Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov; in the United States, he is a comrade of the Neoconservative thinker and activist Robert Kagan, husband of Victoria Nuland.

Now with the Polish fracas, the freedom fighting chickens have come home to the EU to roost.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015

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G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to