It is ironical that a leading role in the European Union is now with the Czech Foreign Minister, His Serene Highness The Prince of Schwarzenberg, Count of Sulz, Princely Landgrave in Klettgau and Duke of Krummau, although under Czech law the use of such a title is forbidden.
“Had not European history turned awry in the 19th century, (he)… Karl von Schwarzenberg, would now be king of Bohemia,” writes Martin Peretz, editor of the American journal The New Republic in a piece on Gaza republished in The Australian on 7 January, 2009.
As the Czech Republic holds the Presidency of the EU for the first half of 1999, he is in the key position of the Council President (Responsible national minister) of the European Union.
In exile under the Soviet occupation of his country, the Prince has played a leading role in the defence of human rights. From 1984 to 1990 he was chairman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
He is now representing the EU in discussions in Israel concerning Gaza, although the French President is also involved notwithstanding that France no longer holds the EU presidency.
Incidentally Martin Peretz argues that it is Europe,” hitherto feckless Europe,” that needs to guarantee the peace between the Israelis and the Gaza Palestinians.
“Europe has been Palestine's rhetorical patron," he writes. "Now let it be Palestine's actual guarantor. That means ensuring the governors of Gaza not rule by the armed doctrine of fanatic and bloodthirsty Islam. This is not only for Israel's sake but also for the sake of the indigenous population. It requires a resolute confidence in the face of an unruly, almost insuppressible politics.”
Mr Peretz has an extended notion of Europe, one which includes Australia. “ With the Palestinian Authority or not, and preferably with it, Europe (by which I mean Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, Canada, Australia and a few others) holds the fate of Palestine in its hands. “
In any event it is clear the European Union will take a significant role in attempts to find a ceasefire satisfactory to both sides, particularly while the US presidency is less potent because of its impossibly long constitutionally mandated transition.
This is, as we know too well from the endless media reports, after an election campaign which took over a year and cost around one billion US dollars.
The American republic pales in comparison with our Westminster system, but is superior to most of these republics where all leadership positions are in the hands of the political class. With the exception of the civil war, it has worked for a long time, and does provide effective checks and balances on power.
But this transition in the handing over of the government demonstrates, yet again, how rigid it is.
What is sad to see is the investing of so much hope by so many in just one man. The institution of the presidency only encourages this, but the result will be massive disappointment.
That said, it was refreshing to see the comment by Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove in The Sydney Morning Herald on 7 January,2009 . The heading summarises his argument: “Reports of US decline could be premature” As he asks, “ Relative to whom exactly is the US in decline?”