Monday

13th Jul 2020

Boost global role and forget constitution, Soros urges EU

US billionaire financier and liberal political activist George Soros has said the EU should "shelve" its planned constitution and instead take concrete steps to effectively promote a "global open society."

The Hungarian-born US citizen, who became famous as a financial speculator in the 1980s and 1990s, currently heads the Open Society Institute which promotes liberal democracy worldwide and which has been particularly active in the former Soviet bloc.

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Speaking at the European Policy Centre in Brussels on Monday (20 November), Mr Soros hailed the EU as an "inspiring" example of what he calls an "open society," with none of the member states dominating and with human rights prevailing.

"To my mind the EU embodies the principles of an open society," Mr Soros said also referring to the "step by step" building process of the union since the 1950s, with Europe's founding fathers gradually exploring new forms of co-operation while being aware of their "imperfections."

"An open society is an imperfect society which holds itself open to improvement," he said.

But while praising the EU's record on democracy and liberalism, Mr Soros also called upon the EU to shelve its proposed constitution, which was rejected in France and the Netherlands in referendums last year.

"The constitution may have been in any case an over-ambitious step," he said, adding that "I believe the debate on the constitution should be shelved."

But although he added that "to try and force [the constitution] through people's throats now" would spark fresh popular resistance, Mr Soros also expressed support for key reforms introduced in the charter designed to make the union function more efficiently.

He proposed that the constitution be "unbundled and presented piecemeal," with priority to be given to simplifying the EU's decision-making process which he said is "urgent" for the bloc to act more effectively on the world stage.

"The world badly needs a more united Europe committed to a global open society," he stated, adding that the constitutional deadlock of the bloc "should not be used as pretext for inaction".

Meanwhile EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who took part in the debate with Mr Soros, appeared to defend the constitution by saying "we are at a point where people want to know where the journey is heading". Open societies need to be "efficient in every direction" he said highlighting the overall efficiency gains provided by the charter.

Russian authoritarianism

The US philanthropist backed up his call for the EU to end its divisions on foreign policy by referring to the US, under president George W. Bush, as being "no longer in the position to set the agenda in the world" after having brought the world into "disarray" by its failed war on terror.

The EU is used to reacting to Washington and accepting the US-created world order "as a given", but from now on it should "play a more active role than it did in the past."

A stronger Europe is also necessary in the face of an authoritarian and power-playing Russia, he warned.

"I have bad news on Russia," he said, explaining that it "has emerged as an authoritarian state" using natural resources to "assert its power" by setting up shady joint ventures in energy with foreign firms.

Moscow "wants to control all institutions of democracy," he said highlighting attempts by the Kremlin to set up "government-organised non-governmental organisations."

"Faced with this, Europe has a problem and there is a reluctance to recognise that," he concluded.

Rule-of-law row complicates budget talks

Disagreements are running deep between EU leaders over the overall size of the budget and recovery package, the criteria and mode of distribution and the conditions, with rule of law "another battle ground opening up".

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