European Council: Some life lessons from Brussels

We're that transparent. Meeting room at the EU Council HQ in Brussels (photo: Council of the EU)
We're that transparent. Meeting room at the EU Council HQ in Brussels (photo: Council of the EU)
Rzeczpospolita (Warsaw)

What do the recent appointments of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton at the top of Commission have to teach us about the European Union? About five things, according to Paweł Lisicki, editor in chief of Warsaw daily Rzeczpospolita, and not one of them easy to digest.

Europeans can rest assured. The time of trouble and strife is past. The EU will have Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy for president and Baroness Catherine Ashton as foreign minister. Let this be a lesson to us about the state of play in the European Union.

Firstly, let it be a lesson in democracy, because, honestly, it’s not easy to work out exactly by what right these two were appointed. All we know for certain is that they weren’t elected. And the rest in shrouded in mystery. To go by press reports, it seems “they were recommended”, “they were announced”, “they were presented”, “they were agreed upon”. Who stands behind such usage of the passive voice? Only God could answer such a question. For the rest of us here below, the only conclusion we can safely draw is that democracy must be about not knowing who there is to choose, not knowing by what right and on what grounds, not knowing who, in the end, is going to get chosen. Unless I’ve missed something.

Let it be a lesson, also, in transparency. Try as you might, it’s just too hard to divine exactly what powers this duo will have, and whether these powers are even real. What decisions can they make and what will they be able to agree on? Who can they consult and to whom do they report? Surely, moments of success and failure must await them, but where exactly will these moments come from? From what direction? Search me.

Let this also be a lesson in honesty. “A historical moment. Europe has new leadership,” exulted Sweden’s prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt, acclaiming the triumphal entance of Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the world stage. Other EU leaders churned out similar soundbites. I don’t believe that any of them really believed a word they were officially saying. I simply just don’t.

A lesson about “competence”. For many months, I’ve been hearing how the EU needs a “new” dynamic and that it must have “strong” leadership. And hey presto, two unknowns land the top jobs. Never mind, because when you come to think of it, Van Rompuy is really a colourful chap, compared to Baroness Ashton that is. He composes haiku (“Hair blows in the wind. After years there is still wind. Sadly no more hair”), he practices zen, works awfully hard and believes that in order to make good decisions you need “to find time to rest”. He is prime minister of Belgium after all. And Mrs Ashton? She has never had an iota of diplomatic experience, which – as it seems – is not considered a disadvantage. Conclusion: competence is not about knowledge and skills but about satisfying expectations. Expectations that remain mysterious (see above).

A lesson in equality. What equality? Well, equality of the sort that if the president’s post is given to a “man” and a Christian-Democrat, then a “woman” associated with the left must needs then become Foreign Minister. “It would be good if a woman’s voice answered telephone calls to Europe,” purred Jerzy Buzek. Well, Jerzy, your dream has come true. Though it doesn’t seem to matter if the voice has anything interesting to say. But wait up. You could still argue that we do not have enough equality, because why should a “man” be President and a woman be nothing but a minister? And not the other way round? Well? Mrs High Representative had a few choice words on the subject, as how all this is a sign that women have finally come to be appreciated. Appreciated. Indeed.

So let this all serve as a lesson, I repeat. Let it serve as a lesson, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a glorious future awaits the European Union.

Factual or translation error? Tell us.