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The EU resembles more and more the World Health Organization: time for a position switch ?

By Kristof Decoster
on February 22, 2016

Confronted with the myriad of (interconnected) crises in Europe, people all over the continent are increasingly starting to wonder whether the EU is still ‘fit for purpose’. The reluctant remaining fans acknowledge that “if the EU didn’t exist, it would probably have to be invented again” (to help deal with 21st century global challenges), while other observers say that the EU should perhaps “refocus on its core business” (with the latter defined in a way that tends to please powerful (corporate) actors rather than common European citizens). Acknowledging that EU legitimacy, cohesion and credibility are at an all-time low, Eurocratic elites insist the Union needs “structural reform” and reckon it’s “probably the last chance” to fix the Union’s dysfunctions;  the more deluded ones (like our own Guy Verhofstadt) even argue for further integration – a tall order in the current circumstances, if you ask me, even if he probably had a point in more prosperous times.  Meanwhile, on both sides of the political spectrum, others say the whole thing is by now  ‘beyond reform”’.

Decision makers and politicians who still defend the EU – say Cameron, or Tusk, or any other so called “European leader” –  do so for reasons that are hard to stomach for average (let alone poor) EU citizens. By way of example, the Brits will now probably vote for a Brexit (understandably). Sadly,  they’ll probably do so for all the wrong (i.e. Tory-eurosceptic/UKIP) reasons.

As for my own opinion, till recently I used to think the euro was the main problem (and so ditching the euro would have been a good idea), while the EU needed to be preserved. But I’m starting to have my doubts now. Maybe it’s time to take a fresh start and start all over again, with a new European social contract ‘fit for the 21st century’ with a small coalition of the willing, grounded in real democracy and social justice,  rather than trying to reform a near-neoliberal vehicle?  Unless, of course, a last-minute European Bernie Sanders pops up to trigger a European-wide political revolution. But so far, I don’t see one (and it’s not for lack of looking).

Anyway, I haven’t made my mind up so far on the euro/EU issue, and it might not even be necessary as the EU might just implode in the coming years in front of our eyes, if things continue the way they do now.


Position switch

So while awaiting the fate of the EU, as a small constructive step towards improvement of the state of the world,  how about a transfer of personnel, or even a ‘position switch’ in 2017?

As you know, the more or less official “face” of WHO, Margaret Chan, has been in trouble since the Ebola crisis, rightly or wrongly. Since the refugee crisis, the same is pretty much true for Angela Merkel. (Fortunately, Angela grabbed the chance to fortify her ‘inner Angie’ with some Belgian fries last week at yet another endless European summit in Brussels; can’t blame her if you have to face the likes of Cameron, Hollande and Orban for hours and hours).

Some observers have been saying lately that Angela Merkel would make a fine UN Secretary General, when Ban Ki Moon has to be replaced.

But I say, Angela for WHO Director-General!

From one beleaguered job to another one: can’t be too hard for an ultra-resilient iron lady like Merkel, no doubt the neverending WHO reform will be a piece of cake for her after the EU conundrum. Lately, she’s become quite interested in global health anyway, especially during last year’s G7 presidency (and probably a couple of ‘power breakfasts’ with Bill Gates and other High Net Worth entrepreneurs/philantrocapitalists with ‘preferential access’ to our democratically elected leaders).

Moreover, now that WHO has to prepare and position itself for the SDG, multi-stakeholder governance and ‘health in all policies’ era, Angela would bring some much needed political skill and brinkmanship. If one day you have to confront dumb male blondes like Trump & Johnson, you better be prepared.

Of course, Angela would have to get used to an intergovernmental institution that can’t print its own money (but instead depends on powerful donors and philanthropic foundations for its resources (that invariably tend to come too few, too late and earmarked)). But this is “austerity Angie”, remember, so I’m sure she can manage, even if she would now find herself on the other side.

Apart from the austerity track record I’ll never forgive her, I see only one downside: she isn’t African. But coming from the European level, she wouldn’t say no to teaming up with an African co-DG, I guess.  In sum, to take WHO to the next level, Chancellor Merkel gets my vote.

(I’m not exactly sure what Margaret Chan would pull off in European corridors, but at least she’d be far more fun than the average European top politician.  And who knows, some day, she might come up with a new European anthem that can unite the European people once again! )

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