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The Man Who Reorganized Europe



In December, 1991, European Commission President Jacques Delors tried to get Competition Commissioner Leon Brittan to unify European Union rules about state aid for depressed regions. When the matter was discussed, Brittan, who wanted to maintain rules intended to keep such aid from giving companies an unfair advantage, thought he had prevailed. But when he saw minutes of the session written up by Delors' staff, he discovered he had lost. Brittan's attempts to change the rigged summary were unsuccessful. To get even partial satisfaction, he had to make a concession on another matter.

Meet Jacques Delors, gloves-off politician--just one of the illuminating and sometimes surprising images one gets from Charles Grant's portrait of the "Czar of Brussels." Grant, until last year The Economist's EU reporter, recounts many such tales of crafty politicking. By themselves, these stories--Delors' staff rewriting official texts of his embarrassing public remarks, Delors secretly running the departments of weak commissioners--make interesting reading. And as Delors prepares to leave office on Jan. 5, the book puts flesh on skeletal accounts of his accomplishments.

That covers a lot: seminal efforts to bring about the EU's single market, monetary union, the Social Charter of labor reforms, the European Economic Area (which adds five European Free Trade Assn. countries to the single market), and the movement to reform Europe's overly costly welfare system. On the other hand, as Grant points out, Delors overreached disastrously by pushing for political union when Europe was ready only for monetary union, as later destabilizing protests showed.

Grant's book displays a quality Delors, in proposing new ideas, has often exhibited: exquisite timing. The book came out just as EU leaders were bickering not only about who should succeed Delors but also about what kind of EU that person should lead. The struggle between forces favoring a loose confederation of nations and those who prefer a more federal entity permeated the Delors decade--and continues to cripple the EU even as it expands to 16 members in January and perhaps more than 20 by 2000, when the next president's term ends. Grant does a good job of taking us through this intractable debate, which began with EU founder and federalist Jean Monnet battling France's ultranationalist President Charles de Gaulle in the 1950s. Adding to the book's timeliness is Delors' reported ambition to succeed Franois Mitterrand as French President next year.

Grant's account of Delors' upbringing helps explain why he pushed such controversial EU policies as minimum pregnancy benefits and maximum hours for work weeks. A titular Socialist who admits he is a closet Christian Democrat, Delors, now 69, picked up devout Catholicism and a strong work ethic from his father, a messenger for the Bank of France. At that bank, Delors began a bureaucratic career that led to high posts in both Gaullist and Socialist governments before his EU reign. Philosopher Emmanuel Mounier, whose "personalism" is a humanitarian compromise between communism and liberal capitalism, influences Delors' thinking, Grant writes. If past is prologue, a French President Delors would opt for an incomes policy, a social contract between labor and government, more job training, and more state-provided child care.

Whether one relishes or abhors such a prospect, Grant's portrait contains tips for those who seek to influence Delors: Argue in writing, never orally. And to find out what's on his mind, chat up his wife, Marie. Grant also reveals the workaholic Delors' unexpected common touch. After laboring 12 hours a day for six days, he's likely to spend Sundays reading the cycling news in L'Equipe while listening to Dizzy Gillespie riffs from Night in Tunisia. He's also mad about Hollywood movies and basketball, which he played well as a youth.

Rarely elected, often appointed, the Delors that Grant paints shows little gusto for the rough and tumble of electoral politics. He succeeds through hard work and intelligence, and when others resist his ideas, his reaction often is to threaten resignation--if those who oppose him are superiors--or punishment, if the naysayers are subordinates.

Although seen by many as the ultimate overreaching Brussels bureaucrat, Delors detests bureaucracy, Grant says. But his drive to see his ideas implemented has led him to hire henchmen to cut or create red tape as necessary. Heading the list is his former chief of staff, Pascal Lamy, dubbed "Delors' Exocet" for the devastation he could produce when things didn't go Delors' way. Uncooperative commissioners or staff chiefs would find themselves cut off from the commission's vital paper flow or subjected to public ridicule. The commission's services are packed with Delors loyalists, as are top posts in the various directorates supposedly run by the other 16 co-equal commissioners.

This manipulation of bureaucracy has driven the commission's morale to new lows, as Delors' successor--Jacques Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg--will discover. But in Grant's book, he can find a serviceable blueprint for what works, what doesn't, and what needs to be done.PATRICK OSTER

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