Written during his time as President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy’s book-length essay Europe in the Storm offers an insight into the machinations of one of the highest levels of the European Union during some of its most unstable years. Nestled in the middle of the book is a call-to-arms for those who admire the European Union and its work, “We need a positive language. Each and every one of us must defend what we achieve; not half heartedly, but with conviction.” This slim volume is an attempt at embodying that. By choosing to release the book in 2014, before his tenure as President concluded, Van Rompuy invites questions upon himself so that he may “answer for his words”, but this also means that the text’s narration is sometimes guarded and coy.
Van Rompuy resists utilizing ostentatious language, undoubtedly a method of protection against accusations of being a foaming-at-the-mouth europhile, but this book periodically falls into the trap of it feeling too dry as a result.
Van Rompuy’s skill lies in being a politician, or in his own words “a bridge-builder, a facilitator of agreements among member states”, and his lack of poise with his prose is forgivable. Indeed, it is when he is describing his day-to-day activities and the “summits of truth” that this book is at its most interesting: Accounts of the gruelling council meetings which stretched on into the night, stories of him flying between multiple countries, and his personal encounters with the major political players of the time such as Merkel, Sarkozy, Cameron and Papandreou. However, quite a lot of the book is dedicated to thinking about the European Union as a symbolic entity. Of course, the large amount of effort he expends to convince the reader of the importance of the European Union is understandable, but for a reader who already inhabits the ‘pro-EU’ camp, the wish is that there were more pages dedicated to the political day-to-day instead. The disagreements over policy, such as Merkel’s stubbornness over the permanent rescue fund, or the contentious political decisions that were made, such as Iveta Radičová’s decision to contribute to the fund, are where the meat of this book is to be found.
He is also quick to praise his colleagues in the European Council, describing their “political courage” in a warm and admiring tone. Van Rompuy’s incredulity is palpable when he states that “Today, only seven out of the twenty-six leaders who appointed me four years ago are still in office!” Indeed, his most human moments shine through when discussing his personal relationships with heads of state, mentioning that one of his shrewdest political moves is to visit each one in their home capital in order to better understand them. While, readers of this book might be left wanting to understand Mr Van Rompuy a little bit more, it still offers an opportunity to bolster an understanding of the man. It’s also an extremely quick read, and for a short dip into the mind of one of the greatest wielders of influence in European history, it’s wholeheartedly recommended.
Find more books written by Herman van Rompuy in the library catalogue.
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