This evening I had my goodbye dinner with José Manuel Barroso, the departing President of the European Commission. We were seated in his favorite café Le Marchand d’Or on Brussel’s Market Square. In this full turn panorama Manny is the man under the big umbrella who tries both to hide but also show his solidarity with the young people in Hong Kong.
Olives and fried chicken legs were the best local approximation to tapas. Manny took an olive and complained that life was ungrateful to the incompetent. “I have tried my very best to do what Angela asked of me, all those years,” he pledged, “but she will not come to my farewell party.”
“It is protocol, Manny, your should know this,” I admonished him. Belgian chicken legs can be rather good, especially with De Koninck beer. “She only comes if François and David are there too, and you seem to have offended one of them.”
“David, of course,” gruntled Manny. “It is only that the English enjoy our sweet wine from Porto, otherwise I would singlehandly kick them out.”
I tried for a second to imagine kicking with your hands, but let it pass. I was rather intrigued by another issue: “You said on the telephone that you didn’t want to be forgotten. You didn’t want to be remembered neither as a lousy President who did almost nothing about the economic crisis. You said that you had a farewell gift to the world. What were you thinking about ?”
“Ah, yes !” Manny brightened up. ” Did you hear about the problems in the Middle East that everyone is talking about ? About that dangerous march of those terrorists in Syria en Iraq ?” Manny took a map from his pocket and showed it to me.
“Yes, of course. Everyone is talking about it, didn’t you say so ?”
“Okay ! Now, my reseach people have discovered that the problems may have been caused by the map drawn by some ministers from England and France, Sykes and Picot, who made an agreement in 1916. Just the English and French, leaving out the Germans again.”
Manny produced another map from another pocket. My best answer to this display of maps was to drain my beer, order a new round, and take an olive.
Manny continued with enthousiasm: “Thus the European Commission should repair this old error, and come up with a new concept that the whole of Europe can agree with. My goodbye gift to the European Union consists of this Plan for the Middle East. So that nobody will forget me. So that nobody will say that I have been a lousy President for doing nothing about the economic crisis !” He radiated from pride.
“Okay,” I reacted carefully, not unsympathetic to his basic concern but grateful that the new round of beer had arrived.
“And here is my solution ! If Sykes and Picot can draw maps then the President of the European Union can do so too ! What do you think: shall I send it out to the capitals of Europe or shall I first ask Angela what she thinks about it ?”