The European Crisis and Men Without Qualities

Louis XV painted by Louis Michel van Loo

There is no doubt. Right now, the European Union is facing its worst crisis ever. The crisis is so severe; one could question whether the union could possibly survive. Moreover, if it falls, what would follow? The Night of the Long Knives?  A beggar-my-neighbour policy has replaced the EU’s self-complacent proclamations and the so-called leaders in Europe appear as men and women without qualities.

Translated by Anne Merethe Erstad

franske bonder
French farmers protesting against Hollande

Watch Hollande meet French farmers

Furious farmers met the French President François Hollande when he opened the annual agricultural fair Salon de l’Agriculture on February 27th 2015. Have a look at the video from this confrontation. What I see is a scared, little man who hardly understands what is happening. And I am not addressing the physical size of the president. Hollande is an aristocrat living his protected life in the Élysée Palace in Paris. He has no idea at all what class struggle is about. Obviously, he does not understand what it takes to be a leader either, apart from signing decrees and giving speeches written by other people. There and then, he looks like he understands less of what is going on than Madame de Pompadour and Louis XV did just as the French revolution was coming up.

Moreover, this goes for all of them, the people referring to themselves as European leaders. To be on the safe side, the EU has no less than five presidents. They are as follows: President of the European commission Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, President of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem, President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. None of them inhabits their positions due to a mandate by the public and none of them has shown personal qualities as leaders. At least none worth mentioning.

I am not saying they are not powerful men. I am saying that they clearly look down upon and scorn the five hundred million people they lead and that they obviously have no idea whatsoever about the lives of all these people. I am saying they lack visions that actually have something to offer their subjects and they lack the ability to analyse the European situation as well as draw conclusions from such an analysis.

They are simply fillings in eminent tailors’ suits. The only true words spoken by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, are those in his infamous statement during the Greek crisis:  When the going gets tough, you have to lie.’

Louis XV painted by Louis Michel van Loo
Louis XV painted by Louis Michel van Loo

Men (and women) without qualities

The Austrian philosophical writer Robert Musil wrote the unfinished brick of a novel ‘Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften’. ‘The Man Without Qualities’ offers an expressive description of the intellectual and moral aspects of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy’s last days prior to World War I. In this country, which the book names Kakania, they are utterly self-complacent and so pleased by their own perfection nothing else remains besides preparing a magnificent celebration of the emperor Franz Joseph’s 70 years of reign.

The European Union appears exactly like that. The EU elite have attended the best universities and just like the aristocracy in Vienna prior to 1914, they seem to think they represent a higher form of political moral. For a short while, I gained some insight into this system. I was the leader of ‘Norsk Info 2000’ (Norwegian Info 2000) and a couple of times a year I participated as the Norwegian representative at the Info 2000 Committee in Luxembourg. I invited the leader of the programme to visit Oslo and asked him – in public – if he did not think it was difficult to come up with a five-year plan for a technology that changes every 18 months.

In front of shocked Norwegian state bureaucrats and small-business leaders, he replied: ‘Yes, you’re absolutely right. However, you see, our politicians want visions and our accountants want numbers. So we lie a little to the politicians. And we lie a little to the accountants. And then we get what we want.’ (1)

The EU system is a brooding box for these kinds of people. In addition, pouring millions of euro down throughout the system to breed similar kinds of people on levels below, really has not improved the situation.

Fair weather leaders

These  people without qualities function at their best (only) when the sun is shining and the weather is fair; when everything, or at least most matters, is on the way up and every year offers more money to hand out. Thus, their golden era was between the introduction of the euro and the financial crisis.

The euro contributed to boost the economic activity in the border areas of The European Union. Spain went through a building boom financed by the mafia and partly by German banks. Overall, it was a gigantic speculation. In this country alone they built more houses and holiday estates every year than in France, Germany and Great Britain altogether, and the euro highways in Spain were later to be abandoned by everyone but the odd herd of goats.

A grand-scale contributor to this kind of economy is, in fact, Norway. (Of course, Norwegian politicians love handing out Norwegian taxpayers’ money abroad.) The EEA has spent money like water (and we are talking billions here) on new EU member countries without any documented economic effect. 

In times like that, it is easy being a leader. However, those times ended with the financial collapse of 2008. Ever since, the EU leaders as well as the national leaders have appeared more like frightened chickens than actual leaders.

Kneeling to corporate finance and the USA

The EU leaders’ reaction to the financial crisis was to hand over the power to the giant banks – the very ones that were mainly responsible for the financial crisis. The investment bank Goldman Sachs, which helped the Greek government to mask the true extent of its deficit to make it appear as if the country was ready to implement the euro, had the opportunity to place a number their former associates in central positions in several European countries.

Moreover, the politicians helped the banks to shift their financial loss onto the citizens of the EU countries. The Italian populist Beppo Grillo writes:

The loans given to Greece ended up with 90 percent to German and French banks, to save them. Simultaneously the public debt increased in those countries contributing to the so-called financial rescue operation in Greece (Italy with 40 billion euro) as well as the Greek debt (240 billion euro “in assistance”). However, it is an illegitimate debt, shifted onto the shoulders of Greek and European citizens in order to buy out private banks, which, thanks to the euro, could lend out money without any financial considerations.

On the occasion of the USA directed coup d’état in Ukraine, the US view of their European allies became apparent when the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, brushed the European leaders aside with a: Fuck the EU!

Vice President Joe Biden produced more words, but was just as condescending when he told Harvard students how the USA forced the EU leaders to agree to sanctions against Russia.

These sanctions cost European countries hundreds of thousands jobs and billions of euro in lost incomes and public revenues. The sanctions are clearly not in the interest of European citizens or the EU member countries, and there is no public mandate for them – anywhere. Nevertheless, these people, who call themselves the leaders of Europe, still accept them, because they really are no more than USA’s trained monkeys.

With such leaders at the helm, no wonder Europe is steered directly into a crisis which could turn out really, really ugly. When poverty comes in the door, the love tends to jump out the window. The European Union could meet the same fate as Kakania, partly because the union rests on an illusion and partly because its leaders are men and women without qualities.


(1) The man who uttered these winged words is the Italian Massimo Garribba, who is now Director of EU’s Nuclear Safety and Fuel Cycle Directorate, in case anyone finds that reassuring.

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Pål Steigan. f. 1949 har jobbet med journalistikk og medier det meste av sitt liv. I 1967 var han redaktør av Ungsosialisten. I 1968 var han med på å grunnlegge avisa Klassekampen. I 1970 var han med på å grunnlegge forlaget Oktober, der han også en periode var styreleder. Steigan var initiativtaker til og første redaktør av tidsskriftet Røde Fane (nå Gnist). Fra 1985 til 1999 var han leksikonredaktør i Cappelens forlag og utga blant annet Europas første leksikon på CD-rom og internettutgaven av CAPLEX i 1997. Han opprettet bloggen og ga den seinere til selskapet Mot Dag AS som gjorde den til nettavis. Steigan var formann i AKP(m-l) 1975–84. Steigan har skrevet flere bøker, blant annet sjølbiografien En folkefiende (2013).