For All Nails #292: I Will Let You Down
by Johnny Pez
The Congress of Delegates, including committees of the Congress of Delegates, has a general right to question in public hearings the Chief Executive or the head of any Executive Department of the European Union.
- - The Versailles Charter, Article 5, Section 3
Frederick William Augustus Hohenzollern, King of Poland and Chief Executive of the European Union, was not a happy man. It had become the custom, hallowed by a tradition going back sixteen months, for the Congress of Delegates to question Frederick and his department heads once a week, in imitation of Germany's Imperial Diet. FN1Frederick was not by nature a demonstrative man, nor particularly possessed of a gift for spontaneous eloquence or wit, and he found the weekly questionings to be an agonizing ordeal. Only his dogged devotion to his duty led him to go back week after week to face his 850 interrogators.
The Congress met in a large chamber that, once upon a time, had served the Habsburgs as a tennis court, and had come to be known informally as the Tennis Court. This had always made Frederick uneasy, for he had vague memories of a tennis court having played some part in the Paris Insurrection of 1789.
Unlike the Imperial Diet's chamber in the Capitol in Berlin, the Tennis Court was laid out in a horseshoe shape, with the delegates seated by nation. Frederick found his gaze drawn to the far left side of the chamber, where the Polish delegation was seated. He knew most of them personally, and he could generally count on their support during the weekly questionings. Today, the smiles and friendly nods he was accustomed to receiving from them were largely absent. A quick glance to his right showed the small Numidian delegation, and it was clear to him that they were, for a change, just as unhappy as he was. Then Frederick found himself looking across the wide swath of seats in the center where the German delegation was located. There was anger there, some of it directed outwards to the other national delegations, but much of it focused within the delegation itself. It was never a good sign when the German delegation was divided against itself.
President Scavoni gaveled the session to order, and gave his now-ritual announcement that, as mandated by the Charter of the European Union, the Chief Executive would now take questions from the Congress. There being no such thing as seniority within a body whose members had almost all been serving for the same length of time, another sixteen month old tradition began the questioning with the leader of the smallest national delegation, Albania.
Albania's nine-man degation was led by Rexhep Dibra, a former Albanian president and the gray eminence of the Democratic Party of Albania. Like most of his countrymen, Dibra was a Muslim, and so Frederick was not unduly worried as he stood and was recognized by Scavoni.
"Herr Chief Executive," said Dibra in fluent but accented German, "it is well known by all of the delegates here that you have been one of the principal proponents and architects of the European Union. What role did you originally conceive for religion to play in the Union?"
Frederick maintained his appropriately grave demeanor, but felt his mood lighten. Dibra was providing him with an opportunity to explain the rationale behind his controversial action (or rather, inaction). "Herr Dibra," he answered, "I did not anticipate any formal role for religion in the Union. When the Germanic Confederation was first created over a century and a half ago, the wise men of that time understood that such a diverse collection of peoples could not be reduced to a single confession of faith. This enlightened principle was adopted by the United States of Mexico in 1819, and subsequently by other states around the world. I feel that any attempt to inject religion into the machinery of government would represent a step backward."
Frederick's last sentence elicited a swell of angry mutterings from all around the Tennis Court, as he had feared it might. Nevertheless, he felt that it had needed to be said. Dibra seated himself, and the head of the next-largest delegation stood: Emmanuel Goldstein, leader of the fifteen-person Numidian delegation.
To his consternation, Frederick realized that the tide of anger showed no sign of receding. Indeed, the sight of Goldstein waiting to be recognized seemed to feed it, and the sound of voices in the Tennis Court was growing louder. Scavoni gave his gavel several loud raps, but to no avail. Finally, he gestured to the Usher, who brought his own metal-shod staff down onto the floor with a startlingly loud crash, and the sound died away.
"The chair recognizes Herr Goldstein," said Scavoni, but when the Numidian began to speak, more angry shouts sounded from around the Tennis Court, drowning him out.
This time, Scavoni didn't bother with his gavel. He gestured again to the Usher, who again brought his staff down. When some of the delegates continued to speak, the Usher repeated his action twice more, until silence returned.
"Should there be another such outburst," Scavoni warned, "I will declare this day's session adjourned." He glared impartially at the assembled delegates for ten eternal seconds, then said, "Herr Goldstein, you still have the floor."
Goldstein paused for several seconds, and the silence in the Tennis Court continued. At last, he began speaking in precise, unaccented German. "Herr Chief Executive, four days ago, the Congress voted by a considerable majority to introduce legislation to the Chamber of Governments, as prescribed by article five, section two of the Versailles Charter. Yet, you have not seen fit to transmit that request to the Chamber. May I ask why?"
Frederick could see the sense in Goldstein's question. It was inevitable that someone in the Congress would ask it of him. Better, then, to have the question come from a friendly source than from a hostile one.
Knowing the question would be asked of him, Frederick had spent a considerable time composing an answer. "Herr Goldstein," he said, "I felt then, and still feel now, that the proposed legislation was not in the best interests of the European Union." The angry mutters had resumed, but Frederick continued. "It seems to me that the motion to recognize a 'leading role' for Christianity in the Union can have no positive effects, but only serve to divide the people of Europe, unnecessarily."
Goldstein resumed his seat. Frederick turned to his left in time to see the head of the Bulgarian delegation, Simeon Balakov, stand. Balakov, he knew, would be trouble. Although Bulgaria had a notable Muslim minority, all 23 members of the country's delegation were at least nominally Orthodox Christians; and the cornerstone of Bulgaria's leading Fatherland Party was to prevent Bulgaria's Muslims from gaining any political power.
"The chair recognizes Herr Balakov."
"Herr Chief Executive," said Balakov in a reedy tenor voice with a thick Slavic accent, "you have not answered the Jew's question."
Scavoni rapped his gavel and cautioned, "Herr Balakov!"
"My apologies, Herr President," said Balakov unapologetically. "Herr Chief Executive, you have not answered the question of the honorable delegate from Numidia. You have failed to introduce our motion into the Chamber of Governments, as required by the Versailles Charter. Are you not aware of the provisions of the Charter?"
"Herr Balakov, I am fully aware of the provisions of the Charter," said Frederick, fighting down an unaccustomed surge of anger. "As Herr Dibra pointed out, I helped to draft them. Article five, section two states, and I quote: 'the Congress of Delegates may request the Chief Executive to propose legislation to the Chamber of United Governments.' The Congress has made its request, and I have considered it, and for the reasons I gave Herr Goldstein, have chosen to deny that request."
The noise in the Tennis Court rose to a dull roar as Balakov raised his voice to be heard above it. "You will use a mere technicality to thwart the expressed will of the Congress?"
"It is not a technicality," Frederick insisted. "The language of the Charter is quite clear in giving the Chief Executive discretion over which acts of the Congress he chooses to pass along to the Chamber of Governments. In this instance, I choose to exercise that discretion."
As the noise of angry voices filled the Tennis Court, Frederick added, "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise."
The President's gavel failed to quell the uproar, and so did the Usher's staff. Scavoni's voice was lost as he declared the day's session adjourned, and Frederick turned and left the podium to the angry shouts of the Congress of Delegates.
(Forward to FAN #293 (27 July 1978): I Will Make You Hurt.)
(Return to For All Nails.)