Every so often fate grants a European politician the opportunity to make history. You will have all the necessary tools at your fingertips to do so over the next few months as Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the country taking over the Presidency of the European Union on July 1st. The EU’s diary is fit to burst - for better or for worse.
Three challenges for the Dutch Presidency
First up, the Croatian situation. This will be the litmus test for future enlargement of the Union. As a result of the thaw between the Croat Government and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Croatia’s Government and Tony Blair’s have already declared their support for quick membership to the European Union for Croatia. As far as I am concerned, this is the best way to solve the problem of the future of the other Europe, the one which still lies outside ‘official’ Europe despite all the rhetoric about ‘Greater Europe’. It is the best way to hold those who are still hiding behind diplomacy and who want to sell partnership by talking about membership to their responsibilities. For some – and for me – it could bring the Europe which died in Sarajevo back to life in Zagreb.
The date with Turkey is historic. You have the chance to be on time for this appointment or risk breaking a long engagement. You could show that there is a place in Europe’s front line for a democratic and secular Islam. You could destroy once and for all the idea of a Europe based on geography made up of sovereign states stretching from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains. You could raise the question of the supremacy of the people, the citizen and the individual again. You could reassert an integration process unafraid of diversity and challenges. All this is relevant to the Turkey and one section of this Turkey lives and prospers in your own country and in all the other EU member states, a wonderful example of ‘European’ integration.
You have the opportunity to change the European Union’s relations with the big powers of our time, which, increasingly, are to be found in Asia. The courage shown by your Government in opposing the French project to lift the weapons embargo on Communist China must be transformed into an alternative policy. Stable co-operation with India is needed. The world’s biggest democracy needs help to avoid the non-co-operation which derives from a past which has not ended and which continues to be a burden.
In addition, courage must be shown at the next EU-Russia summit. The wish to say, to Putin and to the public, that genocide is really going on in Chechnya would be adequate. This would be a not insignificant step forward given that, a few months ago, another President of the EU, Silvio Berlusconi, was brave enough to say that nothing strange was going on in Chechnya and journalists were too nosy.
The President of the EU was, is and always will be irresponsible
But, even if you manage these three feats, six months is not long enough for you – or for anyone – to make history. The idea that a rotating Presidency of six months is an adequate way to lead the Union and effectively manage the challenges of European politics is madness. The idea that a national prime minister can be president of the EU at the same time is madness. A foolish Convention could only come up with changing to a Presidency lasting two and a half years responsible before Europe’s citizens. But Europe is no longer about preventing new wars on the Rhine. It’s about solving problems with measures that impact upon the life and freedom of every citizen every day. Someone has to be responsible before the citizens - those who live imprudently cultivate decadence and revolution.
Sometimes it is urgent and prudent, Mr President, to make history. This is one such occasion. If you are not satisfied with an anonymous ‘rotating’ Presidency, why not perform an act of history which is honourable as well as intelligent? Formally resign from a Presidency of the European Union which prevents it from acting and acting well, communicating and being heard, criticising and being criticised, a Presidency which imposes complete political imprudence on you. Your peers and supporters will tell you that this would be a mad thing to do and impossible to implement in European law but many, many European citizens would understand – without ‘legal’ explanations – why it is needed, why it is sensible, why it is right. First and foremost, it would be an act of extreme and radical reasonableness, responsibly contrary to the letter of the formal rules which are wanted and which must be filled with historic, institutional and political meaning. It would be an act of fundamental, stressful and symbolically essential duty. In the worst – and therefore most desirable – hypothesis it would cause outrage. The politically correct Convention could finally be laid to rest and innovative and decisive debate could begin.
If you are not satisfied with a ‘rotating’ Presidency, you should know, Mr President, that for everyone your letter of resignation would be the act of appointing the first responsible president of the European Union. It would be nice if that President carried your name.