In amongst some otherwise predictable poll findings, Cold War hero and former Czech president Vaclav Havel gets a brief mention. It’s the first time I can recall his name cropping up in relation to the job – but God damn, he could be ideal.
Yes, being a 72-year-old two-time cancer sufferer he’s not in the peak of health, but he’s done more to help eastern Europe integrate with the west than pretty much any other post-Cold War European politician – primarily through his efforts to scrap the Warsaw Pact, but also through the continuing power of Charter 77 to inspire drives for positive change.
The symbolic value of having an eastern European (well, central European, but you know what I mean) as the first permanent president of the EU could be ideal as Europe continues to try to get over the divisions of the 20th century – and ending such divides was, the primary motivation for starting the European project in the first place.
Plus, Havel has much experience of battling against a clunky bureaucratic system, a strong track record in bringing about meaningful reform, and the kind of personal understanding of the promise of the EU that many in western Europe seem to be forgetting. With his playwright’s mastery of words and strong international reputation, he could be both the kind of politician non-EU heads of state would be pleased to deal with, and exactly the kind of convincing, passionate spokesman the European Union has desperately needed for so long to keep its people focussed on what the EU is really all about.
Plus, of course, as anyone who has ever seen any of his plays or read any interviews with him can attest, he is also a philosopher of unusual subtlety and humanism – and, most importantly as far as I’m concerned, entered politics only reluctantly. Who better than a philosopher king to lead Europe?
Seriously, have a quick gander at the page devoted to Havel on WikiQuote, and tell me this isn’t the sort of person we should have running things. Even just read this one short extract from his 1 January 1990 address to the nation, and tell me this isn’t what the EU should be:
You may ask what kind of republic I dream of. Let me reply: I dream of a republic independent, free, and democratic, of a republic economically prosperous and yet socially just; in short, of a humane republic that serves the individual and that therefore holds the hope that the individual will serve it in turn
Or this, from a 1994 speech that seems to have more relevance now than ever:
Our civilization has essentially globalized only the surfaces of our lives. But our inner self continues to have a life of its own. And the fewer answers the era of rational knowledge provides to the basic questions of human Being, the more deeply it would seem that people, behind its back as it were, cling to the ancient certainties of their tribe…
It is clearly necessary to invent organizational structures appropriate to the present multicultural age. But such efforts are doomed to failure if they do not grow out of something deeper, out of generally held values.
I am referring to respect for the unique human being and his or her liberties and inalienable rights and to the principle that all power derives from the people.
This is the kind of guy the EU needs.