Nick’s Friends

Political union? Britain will hightail out of there long before that. And Nick? Well, he will probably return to look for his old friends.

“The euro crisis is leading us to become the United States of Europe” − this was the headline European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gave Haaretz in an interview on July 13.

One would expect Barroso, who could be described as the head of the “European government,” to be one of the most troubled people in the world. Half a billion people are on board his Titanic. Many are threatening to jump, but the captain sees a colorful, magnificent, almost perfect rainbow on the horizon. “Paradoxically,” Barroso said, “the crisis is leading to the strengthening of the integration movement in Europe and at the end of the process, to the establishment of a true political union.”

About a week before Barroso visited Israel, a few dozen graduates of the College of Europe, dubbed the Harvard of the European political elite, gathered in Bruges, Belgium − home of their alma mater. They arrived in festive attire from all over the sinking continent and beyond.

They came to mark the 20th year since their graduation from the prestigious college, founded in the wake of WWII by dreamers such as Winston Churchill and Alcide De Gasperi. It was their graduation from that utopian laboratory that helped catapult them to senior positions in EU institutions, helped them become noted experts in European affairs, politicians, diplomats and academics, all captivated by the supranational ideal.

In pairs, as though coming out of Noah’s ark, were Helia and James ‏(Portuguese and British‏), Katja and Paolo ‏(German and Italian‏), Bernard and Megan ‏(French and British‏) and many others. Some of them brought their children − as though providing evidence for Europe’s bright multinational future.

They examined the ravages of time, the size of their bellies and their receding hairlines. Some of them also mourned their broken dream, their humdrum routine life in the European Commission and the loss of power of the institution in which, 20 years ago, they had fought so fiercely to work. “Life in blah-blah world,” one of them sighed.

“In all my contacts with the Americans or Chinese it appears nothing can be done in the global arena without Europe,” Barroso said.

But the Bruges graduates spoke about the shattered European hope named Obama, about the fact that he doesn’t take Europe into consideration and has moved his administration’s main interests to Asia. Steven, who came especially from China, provided the opposite angle, the story of Asia’s disillusionment from Europe. How in 2002 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wanted to imitate the European experience, how they pledged to set up an “Asian economic community” by 2015 and how they have now decided to take a few steps back.

“All 27 union members decided on sanctions against Iran, including Greece, which stopped importing oil from Iran despite its situation,” Barroso said.

But Gina the Greek, who gave the speech that was supposed to represent the members of the graduating class, did not spare the European bureaucracy and its handling of the Greek crisis her harsh criticism. If Barroso boasts of European solidarity, Gina poured fire and brimstone on it, hurling the remaining utopists among us back to the hard ground of reality.

“Not all EU members will take part in the political union, but the EU in the future will be tighter, stronger and more cohesive,” Barroso prophesized.

“Where’s Nick?” asked many of the reunion attendants. But Nick Clegg, the star of the class, the hottest story from Britain’s recent elections, who was hailed as “the most popular politician since Churchill,” could not attend. The Cleggmania that had captured his country has since turned into Clegg-depression. The Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Clegg − probably the most “European” politician in his country’s history − is busy with endless skirmishes with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives. The main bone of contention is Europe.

When Barroso predicts that not all EU members will be part of a future political union, he is referring first and foremost to Britain. The deeper the integration in Europe, the more the Conservatives will want to keep away from it. Political union? Britain will hightail out of there long before that. And Nick? Well, he will probably return to look for his old friends.