The debacle over top jobs in the European institutions has drawn the wrath of the Eurosceptic press in the UK, unsurprisingly. The editor of the Daily Telegraph predictably uses the process itself, which presented the German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president, to scorn the EU as “corrupt” but somewhat misses the point.
Of course it is corrupt. To the core. The European Union makes no pretence whatsoever to be anything faintly whiffing of a democratic body, because it was built along the lines of a Napoleonic model made up of elitist ‘functionaires’ who wield huge power and are accountable to no one. Some would argue that its authoritarianism is a counter weight to the democracies which it governs.
But what we have witnessed in recent days is Angela Merkel and Emmanuelle Macron playing cards on a green baize table and the German leader pulling from her hand a nobody to satisfy Macron. Indeed, it was entirely accurate of the former European Parliament president Martin Schulz to dismiss Von der Leyen as a “weak” candidate for the post of Commission president. Comically, this sour grapes comment came from the same man who entered euro-politics as a conservative MEP, after the high octane life of running a failed bookshop surpassed its natural life. At least Von der Leyen was a government minister before entering the euro elite club.
But here’s the small print about her, which excites Macron. VdL wants a euro-army and is quite open about it. Macron’s great letter he gave a few months back in March leading up the euro elections harped on about the EU being more accountable to its citizens, tougher rules against companies which break anti-trust rules, tougher borders with the possibility of a shake of Schengen and, above all, increased military spending and a euro army.
Macron has called for a special conference at the end of this year which can even rewrite present EU treaties to make Europe more competitive and embolden the EU as part of that process. For that to have any impetus, the EU needs to have a charismatic Commission President and a seriously dynamic, female, head of the European Central Bank (which is nailed, in the form of Christine Lagarde). The former IMF boss is a break from the norm, as she is not a central banker usually chosen for this job which indicates that Macron wants a different approach. Lagarde is going to be hands on and really feature a lot in the new vision the French president has for the EU.
And VdL will also be crucial as, being “weak” is absolutely what the doctor ordered for the Macron dream to become a reality. The top post of European Commission president, with the exception of Jacques Delors, traditionally, has always been given to a “re-tread” or a “has-been” in national politics who can be guaranteed to be the servile leader of the most powerful institution, answerable to both France and Germany.
What the Telegraph editor doesn’t get is that the old corrupt system, reminiscent of 18 century Russia, whereby the political blocks in the European parliament horse trade amongst themselves behind close doors for the top jobs has been surpassed by a new system which breaks the mould. Previous years of the Franco-German axis being a perennial worry to smaller EU countries has been eclipsed by France taking more control as it is Macron who has now put his foot down and shown ‘Shakin Merkel’ that he is taking control. A French leader is now taking over the European Union. It doesn’t really get any more corrupt than that. Another fine detail is that all of the top euro jobs, including Parliament president, are now taken by fluent French speakers. That is not a banal euro-accident on a Belgian highway but entirely a key part of the coup d’état which the Elysee has pulled off with great success.
What we can expect in the coming months are many speeches and leaked memos of a new EU which appears, at least, to be closer to its citizens which places the French president in a more leading role and France more important than ever. We will also see more EU cash heading towards Africa, to complete the French colonial dream of influence and exploitation there and no one gets any bonus points for guessing which country the companies who clean up with all the huge contracts come from.
The new commission president will be more or less a deputy to Macron and will take her instructions from him on everything from Brexit talks to competition policy. The EU is doing a full circle and going back to its French roots and the sooner Boris Johnson understands this, when he calls for a new Brexit deal, the better as the same mantra of it being France and Germany who call the shots on Brexit – and not buffoons like Jean-Claude Junker and his federalist pals in Brussels – still stands. Johnson might as well start dealing with Macron and Merkel at the end of July and skip the EU surfs all together.