The questions Peter Sutherland, the globe's grandee, was NOT asked by the Lords EU sub-committee
Published: 27 June 2012
Gracchus for the globe: Peter Sutherland has held senior positions
on a numberof international bodies and global corporations
How perfect it is when principle and profit coincide. How convenient when your cherished beliefs slot in smoothly with the Zeitgeist, and you can simultaneously top up your self-esteem and your bank balance with a completely clear conscience. How agreeable to have powerful friends, to be powerful oneself, and all this in the name of the un-powerful – to be a Gracchus for the globe, beloved by the people – and safely distant from them.
On 21 June Peter Sutherland, KCMG, SC, UN Special Representative on Migration, sat massively opposite a House of Lords EU affairs sub-committee, a soft-faced man who has done very well indeed out of the culture wars. His erstwhile rugby-playing physique may be collapsing in on itself, but still he faced forward, safe in an armature of absolute self-belief and the certainty that he is on the side of History.
But then why shouldn't he be certain? His dazzling trajectory, his gilt-edged address book, his multiple doctorates and directorships, and the seriousness with which his opinions are invariably greeted all attest to a life shrewdly spent – 66 years of weighing down the Western boat without ever rocking it.
Sutherland, a former Attorney General of Ireland, former or present director of blue-chip companies and permanent member of international think-tanks, is like an ungainly piece of inherited furniture, a teak-oiled trophy cabinet full of meretricious treasures. He holds in his stubby hands an honorary British knighthood – the European Parliament's Gold Medal – the Grand Cross of Civil Merit (Spain) – the Grand Cross of King Leopold II (Belgium) – Grand Cross of the Order of Infante Dom Henrique (Portugal) – the Legion d'Honneur – the Brazilian Order of Rio Branco – and yet more others, a glinting cascade of gold-coloured base-metal tributes.
And behind these gewgaws from grateful nations are amassed snowdrifts of paper – awards, certificates, chequebooks, Christmas cards from the famous, degrees, doctorates, entreaties, invitations, offers, parchments, property deeds, testimonials…
His has been the life of a man of parts, one who walks and talks with the great, reminiscent of one of Holbein's Ambassadors, surrounded by measuring instruments and all the external signs of extreme cultivation, peering down on human affairs from a great height. Yet Mr. Sutherland's manicured machinations could prove calamitous for what remains of the West – just as Holbein includes a distorted skull to remind the viewer that all rational hopes are in vain.
Just as all paintings dissolve into pixels when examined up close, Sutherland's so-successful career may have been less globally useful than he appears to believe. He may be on History's side – but maybe History isn't on his.
Born in Dublin in 1946, he was educated at the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College – named after a 16th century Italian nobleman canonized for giving up his life to minister to plague victims, a sacrifice luckily not demanded of the bright and ambitious pupil. He studied law at University College Dublin, the Catholic intellectual riposte to the traditionally Protestant Trinity College. He practiced at the Irish Bar between 1969 and 1980, toiling in the Georgian magnificence of Dublin's King's Inns.
He simultaneously became involved with Fine Gael ('Tribe of the Gaels'), one of Ireland's Buggin's Turn parties of state, and although the highest vote he ever obtained in any election was a lowly 6.2%, he made it up to the disappointed voters by becoming Ireland's youngest ever Attorney General in 1981. Tiring of law at last, he joined the board of Allied Irish Bank, rising to chairman. Although he has more recently described himself as 'passionately Irish', in the Eighties he was apparently not content to 'fumble in a greasy till / And add the halfpence to the pence' (W. B. Yeats, September 1913) on behalf of the tribe of the Gaels.
His sights were set instead on the purlieus of la Belge, and in 1984 he became the youngest ever European Commissioner, one of those bland mini-potentates whose precise purpose is so mysterious that their appointment cannot be entrusted to ignorant voters. Here he greased the gears of the incipient European single market and made useful (if perhaps not very interesting) friends, who assisted him to become Director General first of GATT and then the World Trade Organisation. A starstruck Michael Kantor would later dub him 'the father of globalization'.
Central to his grand schemes were, and are, international finance, air and oil – and as good luck would have it, he was soon invited to join the boards of Delta Airlines, BP and Goldman Sachs. His insights were soon being sought by, and all too often delivered to, a plethora of organizations feared by conspiracists – Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group, Council on Foreign Relations, World Economic Forum, Pilgrims Society – although perhaps such groups should be feared more for their narcoleptic than their necromantic powers.
Chairman: Peter Sutherland (left) with former BP CEO Tony Hayward (right)
Power oft brings problemettes, and our hero has certainly experienced hiccoughs. Little did he know when he so kindly consented to be Chairman of BP (the annual remuneration of £600,000 p.a. must have been useful pin-money) that the company would face accusations of trading irregularities, oil spills, what he called 'harsh' safety criticisms and the saga of BP's chief executive Sir John Browne, forced out of his post amid a welter of unseemly (if unproven) allegations. Whilst Chairman, BP signed a £545m oil deal with Libya, and he was present on the notorious 2007 occasion when Tony Blair was photographed embracing Colonel Gaddafi. Mr. Sutherland did not feature in the affecting shot; perhaps he was not offered the same manly embrace, or maybe he simply thought it would be unwise to be snapped hugging an erstwhile IRA-financier.
His reserve was not resented by the Gaddafi family, because subsequently the Colonel's son graciously accepted a PhD from the London School of Economics (Chair of Council: P. Sutherland) and gave the School £1.5m. A £2.2m government contract with the LSE to train the Libyan civil service may not have been entirely unconnected with these transactions. Perhaps this mutually agreeable but officially frowned-upon alliance might have continued to this day had not Libya's liberal idealists meted out rougher-than-strictly-necessary justice last year in Sirte.
Sad to record, in the last two years of Peter's BP chairmanship (he left in 2010) ungrateful shareholders even argued he was not qualified for the job, as he had been a member of the board of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and on the RBS remuneration committee which was so generous to Sir Fred Goodwin and other equally deserving recipients – 'resigning' only when 'asked' by the government.
Suchlike perils of greatness were thankfully always counterbalanced by acknowledgements of his usefulness to that cosy world where law, liberalism and lucre meet – with even the un-liberal Vatican clamoring for his services (he has the resounding title of Consultor of the Extraordinary Section of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See). To add to this sacerdotal seal of approval, there have always been plentiful profane rewards – such as the £125 million he reportedly 'earned' from Goldman Sachs 1999 flotation.
But the money was always incidental to the greater aim of getting rid of all those pesky prehistoric frontiers, traditions and identities which impede the global flows of capital, commodities, human rights lawyers, pictures of celebrities in thongs, and humans in throngs. As he remarked almost angrily in 2007, opposition to greater globalisation is 'morally indefensible'.
The morally defensible, personally charming, highly intelligent, 'passionately Irish' grand panjandrum of globalization actually seems to be out of love with Irishness…also Englishness, Frenchness, Germannness, Italianness, and all the other nationalities which make up European-ness – to the extent that he would quite like to see them disappear. He has said that 'Europe for me is the most noble political process in 1,000 years', and he would dearly love to be the über-European – yet his ideal Europe might not have all that many indigenous Europeans. Europe for him seems not to be a place where Europeans live, but a wholly abstract entity, an entry in a balance sheet.
In the chair: Peter Sutherland appeared before the House of Lords EU affairs sub-committee
That is why he was peering at the House of Lords sub-committee like some well-fed but still peckish bird of prey, looking at the parochial parliamentarians from their dusty old-fashioned legislature – perhaps contrasting them unfavourably with the big-picture bureaucrats of his Global Forum on Migration and Development. He was there to answer questions about the government's immigration policies – and from the outset it was plain that he disapproved. And not just of the policy – but Britain's whole political structure, culture and national identity – all now, he broadly hinted, overripe for replacement.
Migration was a 'crucial dynamic for economic growth' in some European countries, 'however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens'. The declining populations of some EU countries meant that multiculturalism was not only inevitable, but deeply desirable – 'It's impossible to consider that the degree of homogeneity which is implied by the other argument can survive because states have to become more open states, in terms of the people who inhabit them.'
He concurred with the helpful suggestion of the (obviously unbiased) committee chairman, Lord Hannay, that UK policies on limiting student visas had no international legal validity. Limiting immigration risked Britain's reputation for being a 'tolerant, open society', he claimed – and he contrasted Euro-intransigence with well-known social paradises like the United States, which
'…accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others. And that's precisely what the European Union, in my view, should be doing its best to undermine.'
'Should be doing' must have been a slip of the tongue, because obviously he really meant 'is doing' or perhaps 'has always done'. In any case, it came as little surprise to learn that he advocates a global approach to get rid of these dirty differences – an approach based on a wonderfully simple, wildly reckless premise – '…at the most basic level individuals should have a freedom of choice.'
No-one enquired whether existing residents of countries would also have the freedom to choose what kind of country they lived in – nor whether he foresaw any kind of limits on human traffic from Asia or Africa into small countries like his own (pop. 3 million). Yeats bemoaned that 'Romantic Ireland's dead and gone' – but if Mr. Sutherland and his many mini-mes have their way unromantic Ireland might soon follow.
Nor was he asked whether he thought it possible that unlimited migration might endanger the 'tolerant, easy' characteristics he and most other Europeans value – nor whether his manic métissage might make the whole world rather less interesting and beautiful. Although he will be leaving the world a very much richer man than he entered it, the world he leaves behind will probably be poorer, in ways he cannot begin to comprehend.
Unchallenged as usual, unmoved as usual, he rounded off yet another day dedicated to destroying difference by advertising the next Global Forum jamboree, towards which angst-fest Britain ironically makes significant cash contributions. In a late display of becoming gratitude for this, he remarked with lugubrious satisfaction
'The UK has been very constructively engaged in this whole process from the beginning and very supportive of me personally.'
It could be argued – but somehow it never is – that underwriting such an undertaker might not be a very shrewd investment.
Source : ‘Daily Mail'
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