Nicolas Sarkozy had never really liked the brusque Gordon Brown. The French President only deigns to hug the British Prime Minister when it is absolutely necessary for the national interest. Those in the know in Paris say that it's only because of his high office that Sarkozy chats and jokes with Brown at all.
That must have made it a tough week for Sarkozy. The brash Brit cavalierly took the European stage that had been prepared for Sarkozy and went on to present himself as the savior of the financial world. Members of Sarkozy's staff say that their boss was fuming.
By contrast, the usually cranky Brown was beaming before the cameras, cheerfully discoursing at press conferences, where he had previously always been tight-lipped. According to the headlines around the world, it was Brown who had kept the European leaders on their toes. Just as Brown had recommended, the Germans and French, the Austrians and Italians finally got on the same page: everyone offered massive bailout packages to their reeling banks and agreed to use this week's EU summit to make radical changes to the continent's current legal architecture. That's how Brown had envisioned Europe would prevent the catastrophic collapse of capitalism.
One journalist wanted to know whether they would have to celebrate him as a hero and call him "Flash Gordon:" he had, after all, saved the world from destruction. "No, no," the proud Brit said humbly. "Gordon, just Gordon, I assure you."
A few weeks ago, he had seemed finished, a failed prime minister who had been shell-shocked into accepting that he would be elected out of office at the next opportunity. Now even the freshly-crowned Nobel economics prize winner Paul Krugman was celebrating him as the architect of the "global bailout plan."
It was the same Brown who had politicians and diplomats privately fuming at the Brussels summit. Now he's loudly asking for "more transparency," better "risk management" and "global regulatory agencies." Meanwhile he had spent years making sure that precisely those measures didn't take effect, until the world was at the precipice of an abyss. The Anglo-Saxon economic model had failed and now we're celebrating an Anglo Saxon. Phooey!
President Sarkozy was said to be also privately raging to his closest advisors at the Elysee Palace that the heralded "English plan" was precisely the plan that "we had already prepared." Even Jean-Claude Trichet, the President of the European Bank and no Sarkozy fan, had praised him for that, hadn't he? How come no one is writing about that? And the new pride in Europe that people are enjoying these days, where do people think that's coming from?
First "Super Sarko" as the French newspapers have dubbed him, ensured world peace. When the Russians and Americans were frozen in silence, he traveled to Moscow and Tbilsi and negotiated a peace plan. And now during the worst financial crisis to hit the world since World War II, it is once again "Old Europe," the part of the continent that had been mocked in both Washington and London that has to rush to the rescue. And because Sarozy is currently the rotating president of the European Council, it is naturally he who has to do the bulk of the work.
Whenever he gets the chance, Jose Manuel Barroso concedes that Sarkozy plays an important role, but it was he who really gave impetus to the whole summit. It was back on Oct. 1 that he, the Portuguese European Commission president, had called for coordinated European action and that is precisely what is now happening. And in truth the content of the plan had been prepared by him and his people. There is an internal paper that proves it, if anyone wants to see it...
Angela Merkel can just maliciously smile at the wrangling for fame between the three European Machos. She has told those close to her that she thinks it is "good" that Gordon Brown is suddenly suggesting exactly what she had always demanded. And naturally members of Merkel's staff are happy to tell the media the true context: that without a close Franco-German co-production the whole thing would have been unthinkable. And it required a firm tone from "Angie" to keep the erratic French leader in check. Although he then did things "very, very well."
Everyone involved has done a good job, themselves in particular, the politicians reckon, patting themselves on the back. Are there still problems? Of course not. All of the currently awkward questions, from climate protection to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty, have been casually postponed until the next summit in December. No one wanted to argue about the minutiae now, this was a time for vision.
And now the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has taken a step into the limelight with his serious suggestion that Russia joins the EU "in coming years." The media mogul admitted he had toyed with this idea "for years." No one laughed.
Others—like Poland's Prime Minister Tusk and President Kaczynski, who are embroiled in a heated feud at home—were also infected with a rush of Brussels enthusiasm. Tusk, who wanted to prevent Kaczynski from taking part in the summit, forbade him from travelling in the government jet. He had nothing to contribute in Brussels, Tusk said. Kaczynski disagreed, hired another jet—paid for by the state—and came uninvited to the conference. But it turned out that Kaczynski was won over by a blazing speech by Tusk. And after he delivered a blazing speech of his own, Tusk was impressed—and both warmly shook hands.
In this way, the new heroes of the EU didn't just rescue the global economy this week. They also managed a wonderful "reconciliation in domestic politics," one of the participants joked.