Grumpy Old Men Bluster, Blather and Blame

Retired politicians Joschka Fischer of Germany and Hubert Védrine of France pour criticism on the current state of affairs in Europe but have nothing constructive to say.
The elder statesmen: Joschka Fischer and Hubert Vedrine.

Medical progress gives us a continuously growing life expectancy. This positive development also has a downside: The number of retired politicians is growing, with the result that many travel around with little to do but lots to say.

Diplomats, ex-ministers and top advisors who accomplished little and sometimes bungled a lot when they were in power, now offer blustering commentaries about their legacy.

Europe is “old, rich and weak,” Joschka Fischer, Germany's former foreign minister told us on Monday on a trip to Paris. He “fears for project Europe.” His former French counterpart Hubert Védrine, who helped to shape today's Europe along with Mr. Fischer, sees only “a small clique that would like to wrest the remainder of their sovereignty from the people.”

Just like in a reality show of has-been celebrities, the well-paid political retirees, who left office in the early to mid-2000s, try to create as much furore as possible in order to stay relevant.

They are not alone. Even highly intelligent men such as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas give in to the temptation. The relations between Germany and France have “in the past 60 years never been so miserable as now,” he said three weeks ago in Paris.

But Mr. Habermas's intervention is slightly different. His judgements may be harsh, or even unfair. But at least when he criticizes the state of things, he offers solutions.


The philosopher suggests democracy in Europe needs to be expanded. Citizens who have to deal with the consequences of European politics must also be able to influence and determine politics. He believes that the idea that national governments should use concepts of sovereignty to insist that they alone are commanders of the European political project is a dangerous one. 

He argues that leaders of national governments look only at their domestic political agendas, they don't look at their European responsibility, but rather have their eyes solely on the next elections.


Quelle: dpa
Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, in October 2013.
(Source: dpa)


Those who used to have power behave differently. They only denounce.

For them, Europe is close to dying, the whole project of unification has virtually failed, our fate is in the hands of the Chinese and Americans, Germany and France have nothing in common anymore. The self-important gaze of the embittered men spares nothing and no-one.

We could dismiss their no-future-sermon with a laugh, but they do have a certain influence, precisely because their comments are often barely above the level of a pub debate.

We could be much further along if Mr. Fischer and Mr. Védrine had worked better instead of making speeches.

For example, Mr. Védrine suggests that the pro-Europeans are to blame for European skepticism. It's a circular argument: Without European integration, there will be no European skepticism, but these debates play right into the hands of the right-wing National Front.

Simple messages are more popular than the attempt to responsibly handle the reality of European integration.

The idea that Europe is on its deathbed is contradicted by what is happening in France, for example. An allegedly weak Europe coerces the French Republic, despite all resistance, into budgetary restructuring. And it causes the socialist government, which would rather not alienate its left wing, to adopt economic reforms that will test the unity of the Socialist Party.

And the banking union that is in the making takes power away from national governments, another step toward an integration that, according to Mr. Fischer, has long ago been crippled. The millions of youths looking for training, education or jobs in another E.U. country also suggest that very few actually yearn for the return of national borders.

The muttering old men have no idea of the reality of the young generation. Certainly, much could be improved in Europe. It is intolerable that there is still no real initiative to fight youth unemployment. We could be much further along in this respect, and we would be if Mr. Fischer and Mr. Védrine, among others, had focused on action, not speeches.

Now they should at least let others do their work instead of talking everything to death.


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