Sun Feb 10th, 2008 at 12:38:34 PM EST
Late Spring 1992 found Denmark in a tight spot, having in early June that year narrowly rejected, in a referendum, the Treaty of Maastricht. And, what may have been even more importantly for many regular Danes, the promising home side had only just failed to qualify to that year's European Cup tournament in neighboring Sweden, classed behind war-torn Yugoslavia in group qualifying play. The prospect of the coming summer looked as dull and grey as January on Fyn.
But Denmark's luck was to turn in a matter of a few short weeks. First, political turmoil in Yugoslavia prompted its football side's expulsion from the tournament; Denmark were in. The political situation, however, appeared a bit more intractable. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark's outspoken centre-right Foreign Minister, who had spearheaded European efforts to recognize the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and, in so doing, set the tone for EU relations with the former Soviet Union for years to come, was headed to Lisbon to salvage Maastricht.
A diplomatic outcast in some circles due to his country's vote to not accept the European Union's initial treaty of political and monetary union, committed and strong supported of the project of European Union, Elleman-Jensen faced a potentially bigger challenge than his efforts to secure independence, for the Estonian, Lthuanian and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics. As for the football team, observers harbored hopes, but expectations were not high. Without ratification of Masstricht by all member states, it could not go into effect, thus the Lisbon summit.
While the foreign ministers were in Portugal, the football internationals were in Sweden, and a suprising Danish side passed out of group play ahead of a characteristically underperforming French side led by long-time international underachievers Eric Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin. Backstopped by goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, the heirs to Danish Dynamite pulled off an improbable semi-final victory over defending champions The Netherlands on penalties, setting up a final against giant to the south Germany on 26 June in Stockholm.
Reportedly watching the final in Lisbon ,on a portable television, while attempting to extricate his country from the treaty rejection mess his voters had created for him, Mr. Ellemann-Jensen watched Denmark pull off a resounding victory over the German machine. Entering the hall where the formal dinner marking the final night of this inaugural EU summit, Ellemann-Jensen famously quips to reporters "If you can't join them, beat them!". Negotiations, successfully followed up by the Edinburgh accords in the following year, save the Maastricht treaty, nascent EU institutions and Denmark's membership in them.
Such brio underlines why Uffe Ellemann-Jensen would make a good first President of the European Union: style. An economist by training, he knows the true meaning of statistics when employed by politicians, once remarking that "statistics are like bikinis -they show a lot but hide the essentials". And of course, beyond his impeccable European credentials under sometimes trying circumstances, his statesmanship is without question. His role at the fore of Baltic diplomacy gives him the kind of credibility in the eastern part of the union many pols from the western part lack. oming from a small country, his candidacy avoids some of the potential big-country power conflicts that a candidate from France, Germany, Italy, the UK or even Poland might provoke. And finally, coming squarely from the ideological center of the EU, soft Scandinavian liberalism, his candidacy could potentially be a unifying on for a Europe currently wracked, in some quarters, by internal political squabbling.
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen for first EU President!