Europe's new man airbrushed into history: Unknown Santer gets top billing

SOME are born great, some become great and some have greatness thrust upon them. Into the last category fell Jacques Santer on Friday evening.

Mr Santer, a genial 57- year-old lawyer and politician, never asked for the job of President of the European Commission. Britain vetoed Jean- Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, at the Corfu summit. That left the German government, which took over the chairmanship of the European Union, with a king-size problem: how to replace Jacques Delors swiftly, without appearing to cave in to Britain. Virtually every name in Europe was canvassed, and discarded; Mr Santer was the last man left in the balloon.

During the week, efforts began in London to prove what a splendid chap the Prime Minister of Luxembourg was. By Friday, ministers were ready with a paean of praise to the new commission president, singling out his unique and hitherto under-regarded contribution to European history. Who presided over the European Single Act, the framework for creation of the single market? Why, Jacques Santer. Who was there when the European Monetary System was set up? Step forward the man from Wasserbillig. Who put in all the good bits of the Maastricht treaty? You guessed it. Mr Santer had been airbrushed into history.

Mr Santer has been, it is generally agreed, an excellent prime minister. As well as Letzeburgish, he speaks fluent German, French and English. There is room for doubt, however, over Mr Santer's ability to fight his corner, and over his experience in international diplomacy. He is a compromiser and a negotiator, one who smoothes out rather than toughing out.

In the European Commission, often a political rough- house, he may find himself on the losing side. And in relations with member states, he may not have sufficient clout to get his way, something that Britain is obviously very keen on. Since governing Luxembourg is not a taxing occupation, he tends to knock off at six or so for a Scotch, before going to a party or a concert, in stark contrast to the workaholic Mr Delors.

He is a convinced European, like most of his compatriots, partly for historical reasons. The history of his country has lain largely outside its own borders, as Mr Santer pointed out on Friday. The country was under occupation from the 15th century until 1815, and again in both world wars. Its high point was when the Luxembourg dynasty ruled the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century, giving way to the Habsburgs.

There is an interesting historical parallel, given the fuss over Mr Santer. The choice of Charles IV of Luxembourg as emperor caused such a dispute that he set out to create new rules. In 1356 a constitution for the empire was created for the first time, a historical model that Britain would doubtless not like to see repeated.

But Denys Hay, a historian of the period, points out: 'The conditions were gradually created within which strong government could emerge at a level below the empire'. This made it an early example of subsidiarity; the result was the decline of the empire, but also the rise of the Germany of princes. Charles shifted his capital east, to Prague.

Mr Santer gets on very well with Helmut Kohl, the top German prince de nos jours, and rather less well with Francois Mitterrand, the French President. ('Another plus,' said a British official on Friday.) He has taken an active interest in central and eastern Europe, in particular in Romania, where a small Letzeburgish-speaking minority still exists.

His good relationship with Mr Kohl, his experience as prime minister of a small country and his political inclinations all cast great doubt on Britain's claim that Mr Santer will prove to be very different from Mr Dehaene when it comes to deciding Europe's future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea