Herman van Rompuy: dazzled by bright lights. Picture by the European People's Party.
The five thousand riot police currently barricading the Greek parliament building, expending round after round of tear gas and hundreds of stun grenades in a desperate bid to hold back an increasingly violent crowd that outnumbers them ten-to-one, could be forgiven for thinking that Syntagma Square was one of the worst places on earth. Tear gas makes it impossible for anyone without a gas mask to even get close to the city centre; hundreds have been injured; smoke rises from the Finance Ministry and other government buildings across the city and all semblance of law and order in the heart of the Greek capital has retreated to within their iron curtain.
But Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, seems to think everything's okay. At a speech in Brussels, about as far away from the streets of Athens as it's possible to get on the European Union mainland, he made the extraordinary claim that if the EU was a musical piece, the continuous beat would be 'prosperity.' His words showed no indication that he is even aware there is a problem, let alone has any clue what to do about it. There's a fine line between politically expedient rhetoric and the blatantly delusional: and the denial of any sort of crisis, the continued insistence that the EU brings only peace and prosperity to its member states, contrary to the images now being beamed onto television screens across the continent, comes under the latter category. It doesn't help that one of the things he spoke of highly was the EU's democratic standards - so says a man appointed as the result of a deal over a secret dinner to chair meetings of heads of state of which no public minutes are ever released, having faced no popular vote for this or any other EU position in his entire political career.
Herman van Rompuy's comments are, presumably, what happens when you get a load of people who essentially agree with each other, stick them in a room with no public oversight, and tell them to objectively analyse their policy. They might actually be objective, but, at the end of the day, the net result is always going to be the utter denial that there is anything wrong. The bunker mentality is being bounced around in an echo chamber, and delusion and apparent 'blindness' to reality will ensue. This is seen even in our own Houses of Parliament: they relate more to the 'honourable gentlemen' on the opposite benches than they do with anyone outside of Whitehall. In the European Commission and on the European Council, where much work - including that by elected officials - is carried out in secret with no media attention whatsoever, the 'bubble' is even more apparent. The gulf of opinion between the officials than run the European Union and the people that inhabit it has never been wider, and there is no better place to see than right now than on the fractious streets of Athens.
Is this what you call 'paradise,' Mr van Rompuy, where, after Greece 'votes the right way' and passes austerity measures required of its creditors - the EU and the IMF - protestors face a renewed assault by police? I don't blame the EU solely for the Greek crisis: European Commission officials did know that the Greeks were cooking the books and chose to do nothing about it, and at any rate a single currency for many economies and many finance ministers was always an unworkable idea, as we said, what, twenty years ago now? But, please, this is no-one's idea of paradise: for van Rompuy to claim so shows just how astonishingly out of sync the EU's views of the continent it purports to govern really are.