A modern parody of absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings is being staged in Europe right now. The 27 heads of the executive — some of them presidents, others prime ministers — in the countries of the EU are in the process of choosing the president or fixed term head of state in the EU, as mandated by the new constitution that has just been ratified.
We have lately witnessed the primaries, television debates and nation-wide electioneering to which candidates for the American presidency have to submit. This reveals the character of those standing for high office. In Europe, by contrast, the 27 heads of state form an exclusive electoral roll of their own. At this very moment, each one of them is wholly employed telephoning the other 26, trying to find out who is going to vote for whom, to canvass for their candidate, and to discover some means of influencing or discreetly buying votes. The people of Europe will never know the true ins and outs of this horse-dealing, but tomorrow or within a few days if more time is needed, they will be presented with the winner. The Bourbon-Parmas and the Hohenzollerns would thoroughly appreciate the closed-doors intimacy of the selection, especially the total elimination of any participation by their hapless subjects.
The press, you might have supposed, would be ridiculing this situation. With a few exceptions, commentators everywhere are behaving like courtiers, as though what is happening is in the proper order of things. Some weeks ago, Tony Blair was trumpeted as the likely president. Then several of the 27 graciously let it be known through careful leaks that they would oppose him on the grounds that he had been a friend and ally of George W. Bush. Unfortunate Blair! He wrecked his own country for ten long years, but now is punished for about the only policy he got right. Quite probably, this is all spin as practised in courts and palaces, and many, including me, still expect Blair to be the rabbit popping out of the hat.
Instead, we are invited to contemplate one Herman van Rompuy. Before his name was suddenly leaked in its turn, it is safe to say that virtually nobody had ever heard of him. The 27 voters and their courtiers like to declare that this very insignificance is his finest claim to be president. A Flemish Christian Democrat who has been polishing obscure committee benches all his born days, for the last few months he was promoted to be prime minister of Belgium, a country that has had to do without such an office-holder for long and troubled spells. In 1830 Lord Palmerston, British foreign minister, invented Belgium in order for that space to be neither French nor German. Its French and its Flemish citizens hate one another to the point of advocating a split, which makes Belgium a perfect microcosm of the EU. In photographs, van Rompuy has the looks of a rarely observed humanoid insect. Here are a couple of samples of the haikus which apparently he jots down whenever he can: “A fly zooms, buzzes/ Spins and is lost in the room/ He does no one harm,” and “Hair blows in the wind/ After years there is still wind/ Sadly no more hair.” Perhaps this sounds less trite in its original Flemish, but it ought to disqualify him from any responsible office. The man wants to impose all sorts of new taxes across the whole continent and that is no doubt why the 27 voters warm to him.
Who knows, the hectic telephoning may lead to the coronation of some other candidate. Here is an odiously elitist contempt for the masses who in the past have struggled for freedom and democracy. Common sense tells you that Europeans are not going to accept the return to this form of absolute monarchy. Should they do so, they will prove as intellectually and morally bankrupt as the 27 voters leading them down that path.