Santer, Jacques

▪ 1995

      "The right man in the right place at the right time," as he was called by British Prime Minister John Major, or the lowest common denominator, as others said of him, Jacques Santer came to the presidency of the European Commission as a compromise choice. He was selected for a five-year term by the European Council, the heads of government of the 12 member nations of the European Union (EU), at a special meeting on July 15, 1994, and confirmed by a majority of only 22 votes in the 567-seat European Parliament one week later. Santer was drafted after Major had vetoed the selection of Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, whose candidacy had been advanced by France and Germany.

      Santer, who was reelected in June 1994 to his third term as prime minister of Luxembourg, would assume the reins of the EU administration in January 1995, at a crucial time in the EU's movement toward political and economic integration. The Maastricht Treaty, which established the ground rules for that integration, was scheduled for review in 1996. Several of the "Euroskeptical" signees had begun to waver as the Commission, Parliament, and member nations battled over sharing power. Even if Santer might lack the commanding presence of his predecessor, France's Jacques Delors (for 10 years the voice of EU centralization), his skills as a quiet conciliator would still be much in demand. It was under his guidance, during Luxembourg's six-month stewardships of the rotating presidency of the European Council, that essential agreements were reached—in 1985 and 1991—concerning a single economic market and the Maastricht Treaty, respectively. Santer's vision was of a federalized, "non-Napoleonic" Europe ("The more Europe is decentralized, the stronger it is," he said)—not the predominant view. Holding his own with influential Eurocrats such as the U.K.'s Sir Leon Brittan, within the Commission and outside it, would require statesmanship of the highest order.

      Born on May 18, 1937, in Wasserbillig, Luxembourg, Santer graduated from the Athénée de Luxembourg, studied law at the Universities of Strasbourg and Paris (with a degree from the latter), and attended the Institute of Political Science in Paris. Shortly after beginning his law career, he entered politics, serving the Christian Social People's Party as its parliamentary secretary (1966-72; becoming Luxembourg's secretary of state for social and cultural affairs in the last year), secretary-general (1972-74), and ultimately president (1974-82). In 1975 he became a member of the European Parliament and was reelected in 1979 and 1984. He was elected Luxembourg's prime minister in 1984 and at different times during his three terms took on the additional portfolios of Finance and Communications, Treasury, and Cultural Affairs. From 1987 to 1990 he also assumed the leadership of the European People's Party, the coalition that united Christian Democratic and Christian Social parties in the European Parliament. (JEFF WALLENFELDT)

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Universalium. 2010.

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