Tuesday, January 14, 2014

EU Presidents: Barroso - Sarkozy - Schulz - Van Rompuy

Jose-Manuel Barroso - Nicolas Sarkozy - Martin Schulz - Herman Van Rompuy

"President of Europe" has a nice ring to it, inspiring historical personalities from Adolf to Tony. Aware perhaps of the dangers of this kind of unwanted leadership, the European Union likes to have at least four at any one time, all competing with each other. Right now, there is Jose-Manuel Barroso, chosen as Commission President because the French and Germans wanted someone with an opinion of their own, so to speak. There is the president of the European Parliament, the abrasive europhile Martin Schulz. And there is Herman Van Rompuy, who presides over the summits of national leaders. The low-key Van Rompuy reminds us of Paul the Octopus, the creature that successfully predicted the outcome of the matches in the 2010 World Cup: Herman may well be a shy and brilliant creature, or may just be pretending. Finally, there is the so-called rotating national president - the head of state or government of each member state presides over the EU for six months in turn. The tiggerish French President Sarkozy may have left the political stage in Paris now, but he is included here because he enjoyed the role so much that he managed to extend it by years. Go Sarko, go! No really, go.

With apologies to: Mighty Mouse; Tigger; the Great Dictator; Paul the Octopus

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Euro-Populists: Le Pen - Wilders - Soini - Farage

Jean-Marie Le Pen - Geert Wilders - Timo Soini - Nigel Farage

Ah, those brave truth-tellers, Le Pen, Wilders, Soini and Farage. Le Pen is the founder of France's Front National; Farage is the leader of the UK Independence Party; Wilders, with his lovely blond mane of hair, is the founder of the Dutch Party for Freedom; Soini, strangely reminiscent of Nordic Europop favourites Lordi, is co-founder of the True Finns. The populists are clever people who bring out the worst in all of us.
With apologies to: the two-headed muppets; Struwwelpeter; Lordi

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Eminences Grises: Welle - Begg - Laitenberger - Juncker

Klaus Welle - Iain Begg - Johannes Laitenberger - Jean-Claude Juncker

In the popular imagination, Brussels is stuffed full of grey and faceless bureaucrats. Wrong. In reality the town has remarkably few. And that is precisely its problem. Nowhere else on the planet is there such a concentration of flamboyant, over-enthusiastic officials. If only they were grey and faceless, the EU might be a little less hyperactive. One such is Klaus Welle, head of the European Parliament's secretariat. He cut his teeth running election campaigns for the German Christian Democrats and runs the secretariat in the same methodically divisive spirit. He probably won't be winning any popularity polls, but then he doesn't have to. Laitenberger, as President Barroso's chief aid, is a German with a Portuguese background, a brain in a suit. As for Begg, he is an academic rather than a bureaucrat, but the Brit embodies much the same spirit and works on the EU's gold, in a spirit of greyness. Last up is the oblique Juncker. Juncker is the man who presides over the Eurogroup, the political muscle behind the Euro currency. He's from Luxembourg and he likes a drink.

With apologies to: Freddie Mercury's moustache; My Preciouses; perpetual desktop motion; Bender

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

European Commissioners: Reding - Lewandowski - Piebalgs - Malmstrom

Viviane Reding - Janusz Lewandowski - Andris Piebalgs - Cecilia Malmstrom

The European Commission, whose happy task it is to propose EU laws and make sure they are implemented, is steered by politicians from each of the 28 member states. These Commissioners must be sufficiently disliked at home for their government to want to exile them to Brussels, but sufficiently robust and patriotic to achieve national goals. Luxembourg's hyperactive Reding is the lady spends her time bullying the French. Lewandowski, the Pole given charge of the EU's budget gave his country a good settlement. Piebalgs, the cheerfully monochrome physicist from Latvia, has made little impact, but at least has not ruined anything. And Malmstrom, the Swedish former nurse, has thwarted Europe's most hawkish interior ministers as Commissioner for home affairs. Champagne all round then. 

With apologies to: Snow White, Sleepy, Doc and Happy

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jokers: Berlusconi - Cowen - Oettinger - Brok

Silvio Berlusconi - Brian Cowen - Gunther Oettinger - Elmar Brok

Euro-politics is really Euro-pop - silly costumes, national stereotypes and heavily accented English. But underestimate these larger than life characters at your peril. Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian PM is still capable of launching. Brian Cowen, his Irish counterpart, retained power despite the critical situation in his country and his own drunken behaviour. And Oettinger, the EU Commissioner for energy, who was shunted off to Europe by Chancellor Merkel in one of her regular political clear-outs, has been a quietly effective lobbyist for German interests. But the connoisseur's joker has to be Elmar Brok. This provincial German, with his gratuitous moustache, has defined the EU's and Germany's policies for years. The joke's on you, Europe.
With apologies to: bald clownssimple clowns; puppets; hulk

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Geo-strategists: Ashton - Gadaffi - Rumsfeld - Kissinger

Catherine Ashton - Muammar Gaddafi - Donald Rumsfeld - Henry Kissinger

The British, in their quiet way, have long suggested that European states should aspire to a more coherent foreign policy. They have had some vocal supporters along the way - Kissinger, the slippery US war-monger, and Donald Rumsfeld for instance. Moreover, a long line of international problems, from the Kosovo crisis to Libya, has reinforced the British point. Now, with the rise of China and the onset of global multipolarity, their argument seems to have caught on. "Speaking with one voice" on international affairs has become something of a mantra. Best of all, the UK now has a Brit, Catherine Ashton, as EU Commissioner for external relations, the closest thing the EU has to a foreign minister. A dream come true for London? Err, well no. In a triumph for "Europeanisation", the British are now the EU's most provincial and inward-looking nation. Ashton, meanwhile, has become the bloc's punchbag. 

With apologies to: the rest of the world; embarrassing friends; The Mekon; the Man-of-War jelly fish

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Euro Celebrities: Bildt - Dati - Stubb - O'Leary

Carl Bildt - Rachida Dati - Alexander Stubb - Michael O'Leary

The EU's celebrity politicians offer glorious technicolour examples of EU technocracy. Rachida Dati was the one-woman soap opera of French Euro-politics. President Sarkozy's spokeswoman, she was appointed to the French government before becoming too much to handle and being packed off to a seat in the European Parliament. Meanwhile, Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, and Alexander Stubb, the Europe minister from Finland, take the Nordic reputation for openness just a little too far. (Do just take a look at Stubb's website, and his haunting lycra photos.) As for O'Leary, he's the Ryanair man, so not really a politician. But he displays a fine line in under-dog, man-of-the-people charm coupled with an ability to get rich from EU rules.

With apologies to: aristocratic diplomats; Imelda Marcos; Borat; The Beverley Hillbillies

Friday, January 3, 2014

Atheists and Jesuits: Duff - Tusk - Klaus - Grimsson

Andrew Duff - Donald Tusk - Vaclav Klaus - Olafur Grimsson

European integration has its believers and unbelievers. Andrew Duff is the porky British MEP who never misses an opportunity for a bit of pro-European sermonising. In the opposite pulpit is Olafur Grimsson, the long-serving Icelandic President and strict euro-aetheist. Polish PM Donald Tusk is on Duff's side and evangelises for the EU, and the promise of a cosy Brussels sinecure. And former Czech President Vaclav Klaus is with Grimsson, but like all Czechs enjoys playing the enfant terrible. Seeing this lot fight it out, is a little like watching Richard Dawkins debate the Archbishop of Canterbury. Each side earnestly believes that its ideas actually matter.
With apologies to: Mole; Solidarnosc; Hell Boy; Aeolus

Big Spenders: Lamassoure - Almunia - Papandreou - Verhofstadt

Alain Lamassoure - Joaquin Almunia - George Papandreou - Guy Verhofstadt

There's quite a good case to be made for increasing the EU's budget. For one thing, the Euro will only survive if there are greater financial transfers between countries. For another, the EU has lately been given new powers which are meaningless if not properly funded. But, of course, you'd have to be mad to make any of those arguments in public these days. So step forward Lamassoure and Verhofstadt. As Members of the European Parliament, they don't have to worry too much about public opinion. Back in the capitals, Papandreou, the former Greek PM, became the poster-boy for greater transfers to the southern member states, and was liquidated by the Germans. As for Almunia, Spain's perpetual EU Commissioner, his mouth says spending cuts are necessary, whilst the southern Socialist in him screams, "Spend!".

With apologies to: pots of gold; eternal optimism; Anglo-Saxon brutality; MAD

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Talking heads: Habermas - Garton Ash - Munchau - Vogel

Jurgen Habermas - Timothy Garton Ash - Wolfgang Munchau - Toby Vogel 

For years, Brussels experts have enjoyed the quiet life. Brussels correspondents would write a weekly 500 words, knowing it would be cut by the editor in favour of more colourful stories from elsewhere in the world. As the financial crisis hit, these commentators have come blinking into the light. There is the academic Jurgen Habermas, a 'communications theorist' who defies understanding. There is Timothy Garton Ash, former foreign editor of the Spectator, and still stuck in the geopolitical Europe of the 1980s. There is Munchau, Germany's relentless Euro-commentator. And there is Toby Vogel, one of the Economist's men in Brussels, scourge of Catherine Ashton (see Geostrategists above).

With apologies to: Communication theoristsCold War relicsBaron von Munchausen; the boy reporter in the Lake of Sharks  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Foreign enthusiasts: Pies - Filat - Saakashvili - Tadic

Pedro Pires - Vlad Filat - Mikheil Saakashvili - Boris Tadic

Brussels officials like to describe the EU as "normative Europe" - as providing inspiration to neighbouring states. And the bloc does indeed have an active fan club outside its borders. There is Pires from the small archipelago of Cape Verde who is keen to found his own European Union; Filat the former leader of Moldova who successfully fought off Europe's last Communists; Saakashvili the third President of Georgia, famous for sparring with Putin; and Tadic the long-serving President of Serbia, always happy to pull a former war criminal out of the hat to keep the EU happy. Unfortunately, Brussels' influence is always a little shaky, meaning that these people either turn out to be rotters who were simply playing the EU, or are replaced by rotters who simply play the EU. 

With apologies to: founding fathers; pint-size Napoleons; Tweedledum and Tweedledee; Magicians