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Organised hypocrisy

Polemical inaugural lecture on the EU

“When graduating from university, I applied – like millions before and after me – for an internship at the European Commission”, said Prof. Thomas Christiansen (1965) in his inaugural lecture at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences two weeks ago. As an applicant he didn’t rely on his CV but went through a contact, who told him that the competition was fierce, but added: “Your surname should help”. Why? Because the European Commissioner who made the final decision happened to be Danish. And yes, Christiansen was selected. In his lecture, he comments: “How fortunate for a North German to slip through the net like that.”

Apart from the mysterious ways of fortune, this anecdote shows how much nationality matters in the supranational institutions of the EU, argues Christiansen. The independence of these institutions – the hallmark of the Union – is a “legal fiction”. The 27 Commissioners should represent Europe, but also play the role of “secondary ambassadors”. In meetings they’ll camouflage this by referring to “the country I know best”.

This illustrates what Christiansen calls organised hypocrisy. A pattern of “governments making commitments that they are not willing to keep; of politicians declaring their allegiance to the European idea but pursuing parochial national or even personal interests behind closed doors; of member states working together to defeat the ambitions of the EU, that they themselves set up to pursue the common interest.”

So, the fact that states regard ‘independent’ Commissioners as representatives of their interests is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more hypocrisy: “Failing to comply with EU legislation, even after being sentenced by the European Court of Justice; lobbying – and that is the polite term – ‘their’ Members of the European Parliament to vote along national rather than party political lines; turning European elections into little more than opinion polls on national governments and specific domestic issues.”

Christiansen realises that his plea is quite polemical, but that’s on purpose. “In a time in which the European institutions are frequently criticised, I thought it was important to correct this image. It is often not the EU institutions, but rather the member states, that are failing in their responsibility. That is why it is important to remember that the reasons for any malaise of the European Union are to be found as much in the national capitals as in Brussels.”


Maurice Timmermans

Inaugural lecture by Prof. Christiansen: The European Union and its member states: Organised hypocrisy?



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