He can't run faster than a speeding bullet, leap tall buildings in a single bound or see through the walls of the European Parliament building. But for seven years now, Captain Europe's blue cape and yellow boxers have been seen in every corner of the European neighbourhood of Brussels. Leaning on a bar, or in the background at a public meeting, he talks with all those who wish to debate him. His powers? His European values and the treaties he knows inside out. Instead of a coal-grey suit, his uniform is made of lycra; a symbol of the same audacity gets him into meetings with the European elite and the most influential heads of state on the continent. But now, the EU needs to find a new dispenser of justice. Captain Europe announced his retirement last month, bringing an end to a story which brought some much-needed fun to Brussels' institutions.
"Why wouldn’t Europe have its own superhero?"
When he walks out of his front door, all heads turn in his direction. For his goodbye tour of the bars of Brussels, the Captain decided to wear his costume one last time. Dressed from head to toe in blue lycra, his yellow briefs did little to dent his pride, while his mask provided him the anonymity which allowed him to carry out justice. Curious onlookers took pictures, the more daring ones asking for a selfie with the superhero. It is in the middle of a rather traditional bar in Brussels, full of Trappist beers and joyfulness, that Captain Europe has chosen to tell his story, beginning to end. "I always said that I would end my superhero career at 40," he sighs. "But there was a reform of the European civil service which put back the age of retirement by three years." So the superhero decided to keep going til the age of 43.
The idea of putting on the costume came to him 10 years ago, during a carnival in 2006. Dressed as a monk for the occasion, he found himself surrounded by all the well-known American superheroes: Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America… "That was when I asked myself why there was no European superhero," he explains, taking a drink. What happened next was a marvel: the mild-mannered man returned home, inspired to do good deeds, and designed the costume he would adopt as his alter-ego. For three years, Captain Europe operated in the shadows: it was only in 2009 that he finally stepped into the light "during the open days of the European institutions."
In true Monty Python style, Captain Europe asks: “What has Europe done for us?”
Since then, Captain Europe has been a regular feature at events across Brussels, and even abroad. "Even in London and Copenhagen, arguably the most Eurosceptic capital cities on the continent, I have been received very favourably," he underlines. However, it might be a stretch to say that this kick-ass European hero is a star across all 28 member states. On social media, his viral status only really extends to the city of Brussels: his Facebook page has a just over 2,000 fans while 8,000 people are following his accomplishments on Twitter. Compared to his American counterparts, Captain Europe and his unabashed federalism undoubtedly give some people cause for concern.
The "best" worst moment
Between sovereign debt crises, the euro, the rise of right-wing populism and Brexit, the European Union's image has been somewhat spoiled of late. But is now, in the aftermath of the departure of the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz , the best time to leave? "It's never the right time," replies the Captain. "But I don’t pretend and never have pretended that the European Union, as it is today, is perfect. There is still work to do." When confronted with the dodgy affairs that have ruined the reputation of many European Commissioners, he says he is "disappointed." "When European MPs and commissioners do not behave well, it reflects on all of us." Instead, the Captain prefers to take the high road and focus on the many crises the EU has already overcome.
"We had the empty chair crisis in the 60s; the oil crisis in the 70s; the recession in 2008, Brexit […] and Europe is still here. And each time it has taken action and resisted," affirms the hero. Optimistic but not naïve, he believes that whoever ends up taking the helm of Europe needs to have "a profound knowledge of European values […] and operate with integrity." These are at least the qualities he hopes to find in his successors: yes, Captain Europe is recruiting a sidekick, a "European Robin," to take over the job. "I would like that person to be a woman, but I still haven't received any candidacies from women, and only one from a man," he confesses, adding: "But he was serious about it."
In seven long years, Captain Europe has never once let his mask slip. We only know that the man once grew a goatee, and that he speaks 6 languages, including French with just a hint of a foreign accent. But beneath the mask, the Captain says, there is more than flesh and blood - there is an idea: "Captain Europe is in some ways Europe as it should actually be. That is to say strong but not too boring, and close to the people."
Far from the plush the corridors of Brussels, Captain Europe is more of an "agitator of ideas" than the symbol of a hypothetical European heroism; a man whose fancy dress makes everyone who meets him think, and smile. Maybe his retirement is the worst news of 2016 yet?