When we look back on this year, it may well be the one where Europe began to reform, reshape and re-energise itself, or when the union passed the event horizon and was crushed in the black hole of its unresolved contradictions.
While much of the chatter coming from Brussels analysts and commentators has concentrated on the complex balances required by the institutions and musings on the inner workings of the Commission, there are deeper issues to be discussed.
Jean-Claude Juncker has surprised Brussels by pushing through major changes but last week showed how many core issues are beyond his control or powers.
It is hard to see how Europe can thrive while member states send second or third rate candidates to serve on the Commission. While most attention has been put on the woefully ill-equipped Alenka Bratušek, there were some other candidates who were scarcely better who passed. But the Slovenian set a new low.
It’s not just that the Slovenian nominated herself, it showed that the hearings were not about ability, or even vague suitability, but a political test of strength between political groups who are paid for by the taxpayer, unknown to the voter and an inversion of democracy; power without responsibility.
One struggle was over the Spanish nominee, who many consider unsuitable, for several reasons. However he had been sitting quite happily in the parliament for eighteen years and it is hard to see how the public would have interpreted parliament saying one of their own was unsuitable for the Commission, yet parliament had oversight in the interest of democracy, transparency and so forth.
It didn’t help when the EPP said they would block Moscovici if the S&D blocked their man. Oh happy European family, such solidarity.
Is it any wonder so few of Europe’s top politicians are interested in a European job?
After Bratušek eventually bowed to the inevitable – and remember she was going to be a Vice-president, in charge of Energy, co-ordinating the second tier of Commissioners, dealing with Russia and so on, the groups threw away all pretence at keeping to the fundamental rules of the union.
Left and right had a rare moment of harmony and decided that a Slovenian MEP – from the S&D – should be the replacement. That this harmony reduced the liberal group of a Commissioner is obviously a mere coincidence.
Guy Verhofstadt, the ALDE leader reminded people of the obvious; it was for the Slovenian government to decide their commissioner not a small cadre of senior MEPs meeting in secret.
Slovenia then chose Violeta Bulc.
Who? Well she’s been in politics for under a month at the time of her nomination and specialises in firewalking and is, according to her CV, qualified from “Shamanistic Academy, Scotland.”
Miro Cerar, leader of the modestly named Party of Miro Cerar, shoehorned her towards Brussels in a split cabinet by counting abstentions as votes in her favour. This may bring down his coalition government.
The only support has come from Verhofstadt, who tweeted that Bulc was “a strong, liberal candidate”. He did not expand. But it isn’t certain that she would head towards ALDE, not only the fourth largest but also in a state of near permanent war with the larger groups.
She will have a hearing, but looks doomed already. Within hours people had found a large quantity of embarrassing material, often produced by herself.
This is how Europe runs itself. It shows that, in the old cliché, the sick man of Europe appears to be Europe itself.