By PHIL BOLTON
Despite the Rome Declaration that was signed on March 25 by 27 leaders of the European Union to celebrate the EU’s founding 60 years ago, Mark Ellis, executive director of the London-based International Bar Association, fears that the most “civilized experiment of the 20th century” is on the verge of extinction.
Should a founding member follow the Brexit path, such as France or the Netherlands, the EU could come to an “end,” he told Global Atlanta while visiting Atlanta last week. “The chances are significant right now,” he added. And if the EU does fall apart, “the consequences won’t be positive,” he predicted with the legal rights now taken for granted in the West disappearing.
Nor is he any more confident of the U.S. and has directed his association to hire a full-time journalist to track the Trump administration’s actions and launch a social media campaign to counteract that of the White House.
Dr. Ellis was in Atlanta for the plenary meeting of the Atlanta International Arbitration Society, which brought together dozens of the Southeast’s attorneys from leading law firms to hear his address titled “Reflections on Trumpand Europe.” He also met with students at Georgia State’s College of Law.
The greatest threat from a dissolution of the EU, he said, would be the creation of a void in the fabric of the rule of law guaranteed by the EU and provide an opportunity for Russia to fill the vacuum.
In view that the association is composed of 206 national bar associations, major international law firms and 80,000 members from around the world, it’s not surprising that its director has a commitment to the principles of the rule of law.
He has enumerated these as follows: an independent, impartial judiciary, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, a rational and proportionate approach to punishment, a strong and independent legal profession, strict protection of communications between lawyers and their clients and equality before the law.
“The essential premise is that a free state is characterized by the superiority and predictability of law and by separation of powers,” he has written in a published paper.
All this is threatened by “a dramatic growth in fascism and populism,” he said, with Europe’s future of law abiding, democratic states balancing “on a thin edge.”
While Dr. Ellis said that he considers “the center is still holding,” a “fast decline” could be prompted by “something unforeseen — a tipping point that might be caused by a terrorist attack in France or Germany.”
He acknowledged that the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States came as a surprise and reflected his failure to see beyond the intellectual cocoon in which he lived including reading U.K. newspapers such as the London Times, the Guardian and attending lectures at the London School of Economics.
Twenty-seven leaders of the EU signed the Rome Declaration on March 25 proclaiming “our common future…”And he admitted that he had not appreciated “the appeal to the disenfranchised who perceive they have been left behind by a globalized economy,” primarily because of his view that the advances of globalism have been widespread around the world benefiting millions of people.
He also decried the influence of Nigel Farage, the founder of the U.K. Independence Party that led the Brexit movement, who spoke in Atlanta one day previously, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front(FN), who is fighting to achieve a similar political earthquake in France in the upcoming presidential elections as Farage did in the U.K. with Brexit.
Granting that the European Parliament has been responsible for “over regulating” on business and trade practices, he called the claims of both Mr. Farage and Ms. Le Pen exaggerated.
Nevertheless, he called on the more than 200 bar associations in his organization to “discuss these issues and promulgate solutions” before it’s too late. And he indicated that it already may be too late in Hungary and Poland in the EU and in Turkey where tenets of the rule of law, he said, are violated regularly.
“What is happening in Washington is dangerous,” he said. “What needs to be done is to start shifting the paradigm, and that shift has to be done collectively,” he added, calling for a bipartisan defense of the principles which, he said, “are under attack.”
That attack is exacerbated, he added, by Russia, which he blamed for interfering in democratic elections. “Russia is the most illiberal country right now with the exception of the pure dictatorships,” he said.
His association, he also said, has been tracking Russian developments for the past five years and he personally has been well acquainted with Russia’s activities for 10 years before his current job while serving as the first executive director of the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI), a project of the American Bar Association.
Published on Global Atlanta's website on March 28, 2017.