Friday, February 22, 2008


EU Really Needs Strong Leadership

In an impressively erudite and well argued piece today Simon Jenkins insists Tony Blair should abandon any hope of becoming president of the EU. He reaches back to Julius Caesar and Charlemagne before moving on to Frederick Barbarossa, Louis XIV, Naopleon and finally Hitler to prove that dreams of European unity have always proved to be illusions. He asks:

Has the man never read history? His professed ambition is one that invariably ends in tears.

He then goes on to assert:

Europe has never tolerated being led. It is a continent of cats, not dogs. Diversity is its glory, cantankerousness its defence. It is not a family or a community but a marketplace, a cultural entrepĂ´t. Those who have sought its unity, even as a political metaphor, have come to grief.

It's a tour de force of historical argument but, somehow, it persuades me of the opposite of the case Jenkins argues. As I see it, the world faces huge problems for which collective action is the sine qua non, including: global warming, relief of poverty and disease, international terrorism and crime and so forth. So far the world's record of collaboration has been dismal on all fronts, apart from the degree of unity achieved in Europe. The EU's strategy of founding progress on economic cooperation has proved amazingly successful: 27 nations now represent the biggest economic grouping in the world.

True, the nations of Europe still fight like cats in a sack but, surely, if the founders of the whole enterprise had approached their task with Jenkins' degree of pessimism, it would have never lasted 50 days instead of its 50 years. The fact is that Europe needs more strong leadership, precisely because it has so many divisions and because the world needs to foster more unity if it is to survive in any fashion.

As for Blair, he might well prove an effective unifier of Europe, maximising consensus on the key issues- whoever thinks such a president is after the same power as a Bonaparte or Adolf?_- and his record in achieving such things is attested by his creation of New Labour and his efforts in Northern Ireland. The problem is that his chances of being elected are slight indeed. The most important player in this contest is Angela Merkel, and she does not favour the former British social democrat PM. Moreover, given the way he is perceived in Europe, having Sarkozy as your chief cheer leader is a bit like putting Nick Leeson in charge of Northern Rock.

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