Reuniting Europe

At the inconclusive twin EU-eurozone summits yesterday, famous journalist Jean Quatremer irked French President Nicolas Sarkozy with a question – the main weapon journalists have as a corrective of power.

At the joint press conference Sarkozy gave with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Quatremer was given the chance to ask the first question, in the following terms:

For two years, we hear from you that you will find joint solutions, ambitious and sustainable. For two years you have failed. Each time you said it, the crisis became more acute. Why should we believe you this time?

Watch question and answer here

Sarkozy was obviously irked from the question and basically accused Quatremer of being irresponsible as a journalist. It is easier to be a commentator than to take decisions, he said. For the rest, he made an interesting comment of the reponsibility of France and Germany to put pressure on countries in which the two leaders have not been elected. They ended up being very biting on Berlusconi, and this was I think the highest point of the public side of this summit.

Merkel said nothing, the body language beeing – this is a French journalist, you deal with him.

In my perspective, Quatremer asked the question many of us wanted to ask. He could have been more diplomatic, it’s true. But he is not a diplomat, thanks God, and people have a right to know.

The bottom line is that the answers provided to the crisis so far have been to do as little as possible, when Europe is collapsing. Sarkozy kind of offered an excuse, saying that the rules of democracy did not allow him and Merkel to do more.

Is democracy indeed the problem?



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  1. The blog seems to argue that, as a journalist, it is not Quatremer’s job to be diplomatic or to be as objective as possible, but rather to be confrontational and to ask questions that satisfy the people’s “right to know.” Yet it is clear that what the people wish to know may not be what they need to know – it is a journalist’s job to distinguish that difference and to satisfy the need, not the wish. It is also clear that if you are asked an insulting question, you will respond defensively and with a bit of indignation. Merkel and Sarkozy both appeared to display a bit of indignation, yet Sarkozy responded with about as much dignity as can be expected.

    And, yes, democracy – as it is now understood and constructed – is the problem. Neither Sarkozy nor Merkel are “in command”, either separately or jointly. Nor are they, or can they be, responsive primarily to the well-being of the nominal electorate. Journalists, in exerting their trade as a “corrective of power” behave largely as politicians do, i.e., they seek the image of being populists by asking and writing what they think their audience wishes to hear and read. In the end, both journalists and politicians are beholden to the same commercial forces. The solution is to create buffers that distribute power more evenly and to also redefine the role and the means of support (and, therefore, the behavior) of journalists.

  2. Dear OldStone50,
    Populism of journalists against the populism of politicians, I basically agree.
    But is democracy the excuse for the lack of political courage? That was my main question and I would be interested to hear your views on that.
    Maybe you would disagree, but I think the situation today in Europe is as dramatic as in the years which led to World War II. European leaders did little then against the common threat, perhaps out of respect for public opinion and democratically elected parliaments.

  3. Dear gentlemen (OldStone50 and Georgi Gotev),

    with all due respect for your opinions it seem that we forget the most important thing, which is that the politicians main responsibility is to solve the crisis situations. This is why they took the job, are now in the office and they get paid for not to parade around and smile nicely at the cameras. It is every citizen’s right (journalist or not) to question at any time how and if the politicians are doing their job. The politicians seem to forget that they are there to serve the citizens and not the other way around. If they fail to do their job properly they have to be fired… plain and simply. Being a president or chancellor is after all a job. You do not do it properly you are out… not oops i did it wrong again.. sorry fellows next time… Noap they do it wrong they have to be held responsible for their actions and pay for what they did wrong. If in your company you are not doing your job properly you are politely showed the door. Why shall the politicians be treated any different?! After all this the the very meaning of democracy: equal treatment and rights for everybody or are the politicians above?!

  4. Isn’t the most interesting aspect of the Sarkozy/Merkel frustrations is that they have found that there are limits to the drift to intergovernmentalism that has occurred in recent years? Angela Merkel has addressed this domestically by seeking and, to date, obtaining a mandate from the Bundestag prior to arriving in Brussels, imitating what the Danish parliament has insisted on since 1992 (Maastricht treaty), which they felt was a step too far. However, if every President or PM was obliged to seek a specific mandate there would be little room for manoeuvre and in one step we would be back to the early 1980s (pre QMV). No, the real answer as to why Jean Quatremer and many others don’t believe the French and German leaders is that the community method has lost respect and influence, especially since the Heads of State and Government insisted on choosing ‘one of their own’ as President of the Commission. Inevitably, this leads to the Commission president tacking back and forth to satisfy the leaders of France, Germany and to a much lesser extent the UK. Instead of leading from the front as Jacques Delors was able to do. prior to the next European Parliament elections the main political families should agree to offer citizens a real decision at those elections: whom to elect as Commission president?

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