Federalist becomes the face of Europe

21 November 2009

Federalist becomes the face of Europe

The appointment of Belgian premier Herman van Rompuy came as no surprise to me. It was already more or less certain that the one chosen as European president would come from a small country. Nobody expected to see a political leader who would give himself a strong profile at the expense of the heads of government. Van Rompuy has little European experience and still can't pluck up the courage to address Chancellor Merkel as ‘Angela’, which certainly says something.

By Harry van Bommel

The arrival of a European president is not something I ever wanted to see. The existing system of a rolling presidency suits the network of cooperation which the European Union as things stand remains. Member states must agree amongst themselves on important decisions and this means that a major role is reserved for meetings of heads of state and government, the European Council. Every time that these leaders travel to Brussels they are obliged to explain themselves to their national parliaments. A European president will have no such responsibility. Monitoring of the political leadership of the European Union will in this way be reduced, especially if a president were to be chosen who had ambitions to draw more to him- or herself. This does seem now to be the case and that is reassuring. Yet vigilance is clearly called for.

Van Rompuy is a somewhat colourless Christian Democrat who had actually already been written off in Belgium. He has been a minister and then later chair of the parliament, becoming prime minster, less than a year ago, only because his predecessor Yves Leterme was forced to resign over a matter which involved exerting influence on a judge in the process establishing the Dutch-Belgian bank Fortis. Shortly before his elevation to this office, he was still swearing that he did not want to be prime minister. He broke his word, however, and took the job. Van Rompuy is clearly responsive to outside pressure when it comes to such important decisions. He will probably therefore not find it in himself to say no should Angela phone him about carrying out a little political task for her. That's worrying.

Just as worrying are the federalist ideas that this grey mouse cherishes. Because he had not yet performed on the European stage, these aren't so widely known. Pay a little research visit to our neighbours to the south, however, and you'll see this federal preference revealed in all its naked glory. He was one of the co-authors, for instance, of his party's 2004 election manifesto, one of the first chapters of which is entitled "The European Constitution – the sooner the better". In this you will find arguments for a European anthem and for giving up national symbols in favour of European symbols. When the European Constitution hit the rocks, he proposed dividing the text into chunks and pushing it through in any case. Everything would be okay, "provided we go in the same direction: the direction of more Europe." A short while ago he was arguing in favour of European taxation. There can be no stronger proof of federalist convictions.

So we shall have to keep an eye on Mr Van Rompuy. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that at the end of his political career he will come to cherish a desire to write European history. In the Netherlands and in the European Parliament we will, if necessary, do everything in our power to prevent any attempt he might make to set himself up as the president of a superstate.

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