As I stood on St Peter’s Square awaiting the famous smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. Daily, journalists, political analysts, and the public bemoan a lack of leadership in the world. On the other hand, here, here was a definitive opportunity to see a new leader in the making. After all, irrespective of who occupies the Holy See, the papacy has a potential for leadership that’s probably only rivalled by the potential of the office of the US President.
Already, Pope Francisco shows that he’s keen to give the Catholic Church a new sense of itself. His gestures (like shunning an armoured limousine with a bodyguard and going to pray at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore on short notice) demonstrate that “leading by example” isn’t just an empty concept for the new pontiff. I have a feeling that he’ll be a respected global figure, both as a spiritual leader and statesman. Actually, if one looks around the world, there are plenty of leaders. Although I didn’t approve of his policies, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was one. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma is yet another example of charisma, ideas, and perseverance fusing to create a real leader. Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, despite their bitter hatred of each other and no matter what one thinks of their policies, have already left their mark on history.
Curiously enough, the emergence of major political personalities in the EU is an increasingly-rare occasion. European leaders aren’t almost universally dull and uncharismatic, but they’re also mostly mediocre intellectually. A few bright exceptions, like the clever and ironic Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Tomasz Sikorski, and Sweden’s long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs (and former Premier) Nils Daniel Carl Bildt are the only exceptions I could find. They combine sharp intellect, willingness to challenge dated truisms, and a public presence. The EU is the only area of the world where these characteristics frequently disqualify a person from achieving major public office. What started as a European post-war yearning to avoid future conflict morphed into complacency and a fear of healthy debate. Don’t mention religion (except if it’s the infamous “religion of peace” of 9/11 fame), don’t mention national history, don’t mention values… unless it’s the prescribed medley of secularist dogmas on permanent offer from Brussels… and you can count on great advancement as a political leader in the EU’s councils of the holy … er, sorry, just councils.
Hence, the result… if you’re looking for fresh thinking in Europe, you’re left with either the Front National and its imitators, the “New Left”, or clowns like Beppe Grillo (but then, who said they’re actually thinking anything?) Actually, Grillo’s astonishingly-high standing is sharp and dark testimony to European disillusionment with traditional politics and their inability to cope with it. It’s no wonder the EU can’t find its way out of the current crisis… the politics of consensus evolved into a politics of paralysis. I don’t think highly of Barack Obama’s policies and I don’t find him a very effective leader, but those European politicians who pledge their love to him look small compared to the US President. In contrast, here comes Pope Francisco, who may well try to shake up Europe’s lethargic Catholics into remembering that they are Christians… and Catholics… after all. I wish him success, but I’m not very certain that he’ll succeed in the Old World. For leadership and vision these days, it’s more logical to look to Brazil, rather than to Brussels.
18 March 2013
Konstantin von Eggert