July 10, 2015
What a week: I’ve been sick to my stomach from the anxious tension and out of anticipation of the largest existential defeat in recent European history. I’ve also been on the edge of my seat, witnessing the greatest bit of political theatre in recent memory. I know the stakes, and as a former Thespian, I know the dramatic importance of stakes. I know I shouldn’t be so interested in these events; however, if any audience can sympathise with me on this, it has to be the Euractiv family. I’m sure many of you are right there by my side on this. We are so starved for action that when events unfold quickly, we cannot help but be gluttons; my entire life since Sunday has been following a series of “he said, she said” and engaging people, normally uninterested, who have all suddenly become experts after reading a single article that confirms their biases.
In the cacophony of voices following the referendum, one voice stood out among the crowd: Guy Verhofstadt. I like Mr. Verhofstadt. Yes, this is somewhat an issue of my personal ideals lining up with his political line, and, yes, it’s nice to hear some of my own points, coincidentally, echoed in Mr. Verhofstadt’s speech to Mr. Tsirpras. Early on this week, my mood was much darker, seeing two sets of national leaders willing to tear Europe apart in an effort to “win”. They failed to recognise that in a conflict like this, there is no winners: both sides are Europe. If Europe fights Europe, Europe loses.
Though the response to Mr. Verhofstadt’s speech was electric, I think this only highlights the most dynamic player in European politics: the European Parliament. Since the Lisbon treaty, the EP has been fighting and clawing its way to prominence in European politics and now we are starting to reach a point where the EP seems more relevant in terms of representing the European people than any other single institution. Perhaps because it has no executive power itself, the European Parliament has been able to challenge the member states, thereby increasing its legitimacy as a self standing political actor. For example, during the Libyan intervention, Mr. Verhofstadt cast blame on the European Council for not taking action comparing the situation to Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur. In my observations, this is not uncommon behaviour; taking a moral stance on an issue that earns it recognition and praise from the public, but given it is unable to undertake any real action on its own, it avoids actually having to follow through on its positions. This makes it a powerful actor, percisely because it has power enough to give it a voice and influence, but not enough to give it responsibility for failure.
I admire the work of many prominent European parliamentarians, but Guy Verhofstadt has been an example of what Europe needs presently. He’s shown us all that he has the charisma to rally Europeans, who are desperate for anything to follow, as well as the moral backbone to think beyond the stale pragmatism poisoning the political culture. He’s also canny enough to present a Europe that goes beyond Grexits or infinite money traps. He tacitly promised Greece and Europe a better future in his speech the other day. Let’s see if that’s just another one of the parliament’s popularity grabs.C. Shannon