Nigel Farage attacks Europe’s ‘damp rag’ leadership

February 25, 2010

A right-wing Member of the European Parliament launches a highly-changed attack on the newly appointed President. What was the intention behind the speech? What might be its consequences?

The BBC reported the speech [Feb 26th 2010] as follows:

A British Eurosceptic MEP has unleashed a volley of insults against the President of the European Council. Nigel Farage, who leads UK Independence Party (UKIP) MEPS in the European parliament, said Herman van Rompuy had “the charisma of a damp rag”. He compared the former Belgian prime minister to a “low-grade bank clerk” and said he came from a “non-country”. The attack, which stunned the chamber, came as Mr Von Rompuy made his maiden appearance in parliament in Brussels. “I don’t want to be rude,” Mr Farage began, before launching into a personal attack lasting several minutes. “Who are you? I’d never heard of you, nobody in Europe had ever heard of you,” Mr Farage thundered, as noisy disapproval at his intervention in the chamber rose.

In the absence of further information, the BBC’s description appears to be of a politician who lost control of his emotions. Or maybe, this was a calculated political gesture. If so, we have to ask what particular political game was being played by Mr Farage.

It is hard to see how the speech might influence anyone among the assembled representatives. It starts making sense when Mr Farage’s declared intentions are taken into account. He is there as a declared opponent to the Parliament. Mr Farage argues that the entire European set-up is designed to stifle the independence of member states. The majority of the assembly would take the view that for all its bungling bureaucracy, the EU is attempting to promote a European-wide democratic system through economic and political means. To which Mr Farage argued

“I have no doubt that your intention is to be the quiet assassin of European democracy and of European nation states,” Mr Farage’s party, UKIP, campaigns for the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. It has 13 representatives in the European parliament. “You seem to have a loathing for the very concept of the existence of nation states,” Mr Farage continued, adding: “Perhaps that’s because you come from Belgium, which is pretty much a non-country.”

What’s Mr Farage up to?

Maybe he hopes to capture more followers through a charismatic leadership style in which he places great store. It is too easy to point to various right-wing dictatorial leaders who favoured such a style. After all, some of the great left-wing demagogues also favoured the style.

It is likely that his intention is focused outside the hall to electorates, and to opinion-brokers of electorates, particularly in the UK.

Does it matter?

Does his speech matter? Or, put another way, will Mr Farage achieve his leadership goals? UKPs natural constituency in the United Kingdom is made up of disaffected Conservatives. The party seems to be attracting more voters than its closest competitor, the BNP as its anti-Europeanism nationalism is presented with less wriggling about its stance on racial equality. But in the run-in to the upcoming national elections, the electoral distaste for the major parties may be, like the economy, showing as bumping along in a trough, but not obviously dipping ever deeper.
Perhaps a more serious challenge for the newly-elected Parliament will be less about Mr Farage, less about high-profile leadership, and more about consensus. There is increasing talk of a hung parliament after a May general election.

Leaders we Deserve: Herman van Rompuy

November 20, 2009

Herman van Rompuy was appointed the first President of the European Community November with the collective support of its national political leaders. The process and result indicates core values of the EC

In England, all the talk was about Tony Blair. In an earlier LWD post, Dr Kamel Mnisri outlined the case. Within days, the chances of Blair being elected were being discounted.

As Mnisri put it

Detractors would argue that Tony Blair is seen by European leaders as too pro-American. The decision to follow the US and enter into war with Iraq discredited him nationally and internationally. In addition, is it relevant to have an EU president from a country that does not use the Euro?

The recent objection of France and Germany to Tony Blair opened the door for other candidates. The Belgium Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Tapio Lipponen and especially the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the head of the EuroGroup, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Odds shifted towards van Rompuy in the next few days. One consideration in his favour seemed to have been that a leader from a smaller less powerful State would have fewer powerful opponents than Germany’s candidate.

Gordon backs Tony

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair’s successor as Prime Minister, had demonstrated for many years how a leader’s most implacable enemies are within his own ranks. In these last weeks of the election for European President he has publicly supported Mr Blair. There was more than a risk of friendly fire during the skirmishes.

It crossed my mind that any political satire would have a scene in which advisors would evaluate the merits of Gordon openly supporting Blair as a cunning plan to win a different game altogether. I leave those who enjoy such speculation to ‘fill in the dots’ and come up with an explanation of how Mr Brown may have exercised some influence in the appointment of Baroness Ashton to the powerful post in Europe of high representative of foreign affairs and security. [Advanced students may want to explore the role played by Mr Mandelson as well as Mr Brown in her appointment].

What the Leaders Said

The public announcements of Europe’s national leaders help capture the stated rationale of the appointment. The quotes (I follow the BBC’s summary) suggest a widespread notion of a leader as someone who is able to transmit the shared values of a community, rather than someone who creates and transforms that community. President Barroso’s quotes reminds us of the important role Belgium played in the foundation of the EC through the work of Paul Henri Spaak as early as the 1940s.

I think it will be impossible to have a better choice. It is also a tribute to Belgium. When selecting the current Belgian prime minister, a man of great qualities as Herman van Rompuy, I think the European [Union] also expressed its gratitude for the work of Belgium and the constant support that this country at the heart of Europe has been giving to our common project.
The idea is to have a leader of the (EU) council… who actually gives room for everyone, who listens to everyone, who creates winners not losers.
He has a reputation for integrity and resolve and… his qualities as a diplomat, as a statesman and as a negotiator will be qualities that he can bring to the European Council and to his new position as president.
He is a man who is profoundly European and I believe it is a very wise decision to have chosen as the first stable president of the council a man who comes from a founding country of the European Union.

Meanwhile in the UK

In the UK, other views were being expressed

The former leader of UKIP, the MEP Nigel Farage branded the EU decision disgraceful. “We’ve got the appointment of two political pygmies. In terms of a global voice, the European Union will now be much derided by the rest of the world.”
However, the appointment of low-profile figures reduces the fears of loss of national powers and the creation of a super-state. William Hague as Conservative spokesman noted it was good to see the appointment of a chairman not a chief. Foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey for the Liberal democrats observed that “With low-profile appointees, no-one can take seriously any longer the Eurosceptic deception that these positions would challenge the supremacy of nation states acting together when they agree.”

Dr Mnisri had suggested in LWD that the appointment of European President will indicate how a decision is made of ‘who will make a good leader’ . This week it has been possible to reflect on beliefs that have helped shape that decision for Europe.

Global Issue

What factors do you think contributed to the decision to appoint Herman van Rompuy as President of Europe?
Note that this article did not contain all the information to address the question adequately. What about the nature of the job? What about the consequences of dealing with other world powers?