“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shows that we need more Europe, not less; that is why we should, within the EU, move away from the principle of unanimity and leave it only for the most important decisions,” former Belgian Prime Minister, MEP Guy Verhofstadt, said at the Campus – the Future of Poland. That’s the same Verhofstadt, who made favourable gestures towards the Kremlin when he was head of the Belgian government.
On the last day of the second edition of the Campus – the Future of Poland in Olsztyn, a debate on the ‘Europe of the future’ was held, with the participation of former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Speaker of the Sejm, current PO MEP Radosław Sikorski, as well as Warsaw Mayor and PO deputy leader Rafał Trzaskowski.
Guy Verhofstadt admitted that today when considering whether we need more Europe or less, there should be no doubt. “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine shows that we need more Europe, not less as the populists claim,” he argued. He pointed out that this is why we need a stronger European Union, but not to have a European Commission and bureaucrats in Brussels. “The European Union needs to be reformed,” the former Belgian Prime Minister argued.
“Today, the European Union does not exist, it is a “patchwork” of 27 states making their own decisions. The EU needed several months of debates to ban the import of Russian oil, while it took the United States only several days. Hence, unanimity should be ended in the EU. There can also be no nationalistic debates about who leads Europe. It is the Europeans who should lead the EU,” he said.
“It cannot be the case that the EU takes decisions several months in advance. We must change the mode of decision-making and leave unanimity only for the most important decisions, such as the admission of new members,” Verhofstadt said.
“Today, the sovereignty of individual states means little, as shown by the example of ‘vulnerable’ Germany on the energy issue,” he argued.
According to Verhofstadt, power should always be at the level where it works best. Hence, local decisions should be made at the local level and what works well at the European level should be transferred to the European level.
Rafał Trzaskowski agreed with Verhofstadt’s opinion that unanimity in the EU should only apply to fundamental matters, such as the admission of new members. At the same time, he admitted that there is a lot of hypocrisy in the EU when it comes to federalisation. Some people are in favour of federalisation, but when it comes to details, problems arise.
He gave the example that in 2014, Poland proposed a closer energy union so that the EU would buy natural gas and oil together. “The Germans were indeed in favour of the federalisation of Europe, but when this energy union was proposed, they said: no, no, importing natural gas and oil are business matters,” said the Warsaw Mayor.
Verhofstadt – Paradise Papers
Meanwhile, the Politico Europe website revealed in 2018 that Verhofstadt is linked to the ‘Paradise Papers’ scandal, concerning the placement of money in tax havens. The company in question is the Belgian company Exmar, on whose board the Belgian politician was between 2010 and 2016. The annual report of this company showed that Verhofstadt had earned €60,000 per year there. According to documents published as part of the Paradise Papers action, Exmar has a subsidiary, Exmar Offshore, registered in Bermuda. It was founded in 1997 and deals with, among other things, energy.
But taking money from an entity with a subsidiary in tax havens is only the tip of the iceberg. Exmar – at the time while Verhofstadt were receiving salary – traded unscrupulously with Russia’s Gazprom. As blogpublika.com wrote, quoting industry lloydslist.com: “Exmar had already entered into an agreement with Gazprom in November 2013 to supply Gazprom with 500,000 tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas through Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp.”
Verhofstadt also made sympathetic gestures towards the Kremlin as Prime Minister of Belgium. In March 2007, he visited Moscow, paying a visit to both Vladimir Putin and Gazprom’s headquarters. At that time, the Belgian delegation explicitly asked for the country to become a transit ‘hub’ for Russian natural gas in Western Europe.
Verhofstadt himself told the Russian agency Interfax at the time: no objection if Gazprom should decide to acquire infrastructure from the Belgian natural gas distribution company Distrigaz.’ The Belgian also declared at the time: “Another large distribution company in Belgium, Fluxys, is planning to build a large underground storage facility for Russian natural gas in Poederlee, which would be distributed to Belgium and neighbouring countries, together with Gazprom.”