European Union Crisis: A Typical Burgomeister Airbrushed into History
Cornwell, Rupert, The Independent (London, England)
FOUR YEARS ago, when he succeeded Jacques Delors, The Independent wrote that Jacques Santer, the unknown, largely unremarkable prime minister of Luxembourg, had been "airbrushed into history" when he was chosen to head the European Commission. Yesterday, he came within a whisker of being airbrushed out of it.
The man who occupies the most important job in the European Union was nearly removed from it. And apart from a face suddenly removed from the ceremonial photographs, scarcely a soul would have noticed.
Jacques Santer has left no enduring mark on the governance of Europe. True, he has been present at great events - the Treaty of Amsterdam, the start of enlargement to the east, above all the launch of the single currency - but more as Rosencrantz or Guildenstern than Hamlet. No "plan Santer", no "Santer initiative", will trouble future students of the new Europe. He will be remembered only as the first Commission president to be pushed to the brink of resignation by the European Parliament. Even the sins of fraud and nepotism for which his Commission is being held to account are not his own. The worst Mr Santer can be accused of is not running a tight ship. In reality, his threatened departure was a measure of the imperfections of the European constitution, which gives the Strasbourg parliament the stark choice of sacking either the entire Commission or none of it. For a man thrust into a job he did not seek, it would have been a slightly unfair end. Mr Santer was a lawyer and civil servant before entering politics and becoming an MEP, party leader and eventually prime minister in 1989. However the image that most lingers is that of alderman of the city of Luxembourg, a post he held for three years in the late 1970s. Silver-haired, ruddy- cheeked and with a suitable touch of embonpoint, he is the burgomeister made flesh. Affable and easy going, Mr Santer is a firm believer that few of life's problems cannot be solved over a decent lunch. After the intense and visionary Jacques who preceded him, this Jacques was probably what Europe wanted: an anti-Delors, a man from a small country who depended on his patrons (first and foremost Chancellor Helmut Kohl), someone who would not rock the boat. And until this week, he has not. To give Mr Santer his due, in a quiet fashion - and contrary to appearances created by the current kerfuffle - he has begun to reform the Brussels bureaucracy, a matter his predecessor would not stoop to attend to. His problem is that, unlike his predecessor, he is not feared by those around him. Now that Mr Delors has gone, old baronies are reappearing. The commissioners who count are …
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Publication information: Article title: European Union Crisis: A Typical Burgomeister Airbrushed into History. Contributors: Cornwell, Rupert - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 14, 1999. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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