Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Presidency up for grabs

Giles Merritt, the director of Forum Europe and secretary general of Friends of Europe (there’s glory for you, as Humpty Dumpty would say) has written an article in the International Herald Tribune on the next president of the European Commission.

He does not seem to know any more than anybody else does as to who it is going to be and the chances are Ladbroke’s does not have a book on a subject that is so profoundly boring. However, Mr Merritt is full of advice as to the qualities the next president should have.

“The qualities needed are not quite as obvious as they seem. A high political profile, of course. Just as important will be a taste for the minutiae of international economic policymaking, combined with a flair for showmanship and media relations. The European Union's top job needs star quality as well as technocratic brainpower.

But the most important characteristic will be the one that Europe's national leaders like least - a streak of dogged independence little short of contrariness.”

In fact, Mr Merritt says, rationally enough, the ‘what’ matters even more than the ‘who’. Most of us would add another word from the Elephant-child’s arsenal: ‘why’. What is the Commission president for and do we actually approve of it?

Mr Merritt has his own ideas and, fortunately, has no compunction in voicing them, unlike, say, certain politicians:

“To do the job properly, a commission president must be prepared to defy member governments that seek to impose their national interests, and, when necessary, to appeal to European public opinion over the heads of national leaders.”

Well, now, this is very interesting. Exactly, how is he going to appeal to the European public, given that it does not exist as such over the heads of the democratically elected leaders? Plebiscites? Focus groups? Opinion polls? Just a general article in all the newspapers? Successful demagoguery is bad enough but this particular suggestion seems to advocate unsuccessful demagoguery, that would achieve nothing while undermining the legitimacy of elected national leaders. We hear a great deal of European heritage but one aspect of it is the consistent ability of unscrupulous demagogues to undermine legitimate, democratic and liberal political structures by “appealing to public opinion”. Surely a “Friend of Europe” would know that.

When it comes down to names, the same five get trotted out: Chris Patten, who is in the lead, or would be if the French had not taken a dislike to him and if he were not embroiled in the growing scandal of EU money going to terrorists in the Palestine instead of the Palestinian people; Javier Solana, who may be more interested in being EU Foreign Minister to promote the non-existent common foreign and security policy; Guy Verhofstadt whose over-riding political aim on becoming Prime Minister was, apparently, to destroy the main opposition party, the Vlaams Blok (see A Very Dangerous Precedent); and the present also rans: Antonio Vitorino of whom little is known and Jean-Luc Dehaene, already rejected once and the man who lost the Belgian election as a result of the Dutroux scandal, that is still rumbling on.

Strangely enough, Mr Merritt thinks “that any one of these veteran politicians would probably be a strong enough leader to restore the commission to its position as honest broker and defender of the interests of the EU's 19 smaller states”. I think I’d like to know more about Mr Merrit’s organizations.

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