Brussels diaryby Manneken Pis / October 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
Published in October 1995 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Never read an official document” was the advice offered to Jacques Santer on his unexpected departure to Brussels as president of the European Commission. The paperwork tip came from Nicholas Elam, Britain’s ambassador in Luxembourg-not exactly a Foreign Office hardship post. Six months on, “Champagne Jacques” shows few signs of breaking the habits of a lifetime.
Stories abound of him nodding off in meetings, or drifting hopelessly as his colleagues navigate their way around Spanish fishing rights off Morocco and rum quotas in the Caribbean. General verdict: nice guy, just not up to the job.
Santer’s trade-mark is an inane grin and a commendable deference to everyone down to the station-master at Luxembourg’s Gare Centrale. But he’s a much shrewder operator than most people think. He has made a career out of people underestimating him.
In 1985, as Luxembourg’s prime minister, he persuaded Margaret Thatcher to agree to more majority voting in return for the free movement of capital in Europe. The compromise launched the 1992 single European market-and placed a time bomb under the Tory party. Mrs T failed to grasp how much she had given away to the Euro-builders; she lamented as much in her memoirs. Santer, lest we forget, still has a job-and a future in public life.