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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Executive - Central London /Home working - £20K-£40K

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Executive - Ce...

Graduate Java / C++ Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Graduate Java / C++ ...

Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

£550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor