Thursday, July 4, 2019


The EU nouveau est arriveIt could have been more glamorous, but this new team might actually work out well, because of the lack of colliding stars. Madame Lagarde, who is the only heavy weight, is in Frankfurt and will avoid the infamous Brussels turf wars.  The new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, if confirmed, represents a welcome change after Juncker, Joe Biden's twin. Charles Michel can become a creative power-player as president of the European Council. He must try to coral the populist fringe though. After all he was able as prime minister to make Belgium almost function, so  there is hope!

This latest EU episode marks the beginning of the end of Merkel's rule and of the Franco-German leadership, as we knew it. The new Commission must manage the post-Brexit "mourning" period. The departure of the United Kingdom will have unforeseeable consequences on both sides of the Channel. The contradictory situations created cannot be allowed to overtake lasting common interests. Charles Michel will need patience and creative talent to face the negative headwinds coming mostly from Italy and Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the visceral antipathy versus Trump cannot be allowed to mortgage the alliance with the United States. Russia must be engaged, mostly to neutralize the incestuous double-talk in the Visegrad group. 

The EU was supposed to be more than an economic pool of goods, talent and financial might. It is still a project and an ambition which are now mostly steered by the intellectual force of President Macron. He has a far-reaching political/strategic view on world affairs and of the role of the EU therein. One should hope that Germany could still subscribe to a renewed shared-power with France. Certain Gaullist ideas might even resurface. In the past, one might have been too hasty in condemning the plan Fouchet or in denigrating de Gaulle's misgivings regarding London's intentions. After all, he alone was right about China, Vietnam, Algeria. Impossible men (de Gaulle, FDR, Churchill, Keynes, Mandela, Nehru, Tito, Chou en Lai, inter alia) are entitled to magnanimous hearings.

Brussels is too pedestrian to host men or women with unusual abilities. Baudelaire was merciless and even the Brontes couldn't take it too long. Nevertheless Brussels is there to stay, faute de mieux. The EU is a very big organism in a very small, cluttered capital. It feels sometimes as if the Belgian "proximity" might become contagious and that the Berlaymont absurdity is only rivaled by the Palais de Justice, so cynically described by W. G. Sebald. 

Ursula van der Leyen will need a big broom. Since she was German minister of defense she must be familiar with Clausewitz. In these current times of fragmentation he might be better reading than Robert Schuman, alas. Other newcomers  like Robert Menasses's Die Haupstadt could suggest a road map of sorts. Indeed in Brussels, no one can hear you scream (Danish TV series Borgen).

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