2012’s big winners
The end of the year brings with it the irresistible temptation to hand out a few awards. Endeavour and achievement need to be recognised after another 12 months of trial and tribulation for the European Union. Have our leaders measured up to the challenges? Will they still be departing hollow-eyed from frequent late night encounters of the European Council in 2013 as a demonstration of their determination to find solutions?
These questions deserve to be answered. But not here. This column will concentrate instead on giving its own award for distinguished merit, the Monnet. It will be a reward for surprising and unforeseen achievement on the European platform. Its lapel button (a tortoise draped in the European flag) will soon be coveted and worn with as much pride as military medals, which, thankfully, no longer need to be awarded for European conflicts.
To begin on a downbeat note. Our jury of chauffeurs and interpreters – who else is so up close and personal with our political masters? – decided not to confer a European of 2012 award because none of the possible contenders meets the requirements – to have a public profile outside of the Brussels beltway, to be telegenic and occasionally interesting. Some might think Angela Merkel worthy of the honour, but if you give it to her then you have to give it to all German chancellors for generations to come. As directors of our affairs, they can always claim the starring role. The Monnet, on the other hand, is for the worthy.
They do not come less charismatic than Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, who is more mad professor than European communicator. He takes the Monnet for Being Slightly Entertaining in a Foreign Language with lines such as “c’est jouable, it’s doable”. This crowned more than 30 months of continuous verbal dexterity, first demonstrated with his epigram “even if our unity remains our strength, our diversity remains our wealth”. José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, tried valiantly to compete with Van Rompuy for popular attention but his “the European Union has the political will and capacity to act quickly on momentous issues” was disqualified for inappropriate irony.
Inevitably, the world is more interested in Barroso than his Commission colleagues. Indeed, so actively have they strained for anonymity that anyone able to recite the names of all 27 European commissioners clearly needs to get a life. The Unknown Commissioner Award would have gone to Algirdas Šemeta for achieving only 66,000 results on Google but Štefan Füle came out of a very strong field to engage the least public interest with 42,000.
That is a far cry from Mario Draghi’s 11.2 million results – a mass following no doubt inflated by the debt crisis. The president of the European Central Bank has gained such enormous authority that the financial markets lie on their backs purring when he pays them attention, which is all the time. Their pleasure was boundless when he promised to “do whatever it takes” to save the eurozone from collapse. To him goes the Market Tamer of the Year award.
This has been the year of the Italians. He may have the look and manner of a lugubrious funeral parlour director and he certainly would never aspire to be the centre of attention at a ‘bunga bunga’ party, but Mario Monti had no rival for the award Being the Italian Prime Minister who is not Silvio Berlusconi. The jury also decided to hand him a minor Monnet as the Most Overpraised Prime Minister of the Year.
David Cameron, the UK’s prime minister, was a surprise champion as Integrationist of the Year. His emergence as a passionate advocate of European fiscal and economic union was rightly greeted with astonishment until it was understood that the United Kingdom would have no part of it. But Cameron has provided Europe with a vision so challenging that the eurozone struggles to achieve it. His battle for maximally austere EU budgets confirmed him as a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Happily, two women are to be rewarded at the awards ceremony. Merkel’s one-step-at-a-time leadership of the eurozone reform programme has her European Council colleagues trying to guess whether the next step is forwards, backwards, sideways, or all three. Her undeviating fixation on securing re-election in 2013 wins her a Monnet for Clear Vision and Leadership.
Viviane Reding is a front-line politician who carefully nurtures her image and reputation. Most people assume this is reflected by her choice of populist issues, such as cutting mobile roaming charges and putting more women on company boards. Her Monnet is for her Meticulous Attention to PR Detail.
Reding’s entry in Wikipedia tells us that just this year she has personally inspired efforts by a group of EU foreign ministers as well as Van Rompuy to step up the drive for political union. Her chronicler informs us that in his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament in September, Barroso was “taking up and elaborating on many of the ideas set out by Mrs Reding since early 2012”. Barroso may object, but that is real chutzpah.
John Wyles is an independent consultant based in Brussels.