Useful idiots


It was during the Soviet Union’s heyday that Joseph Stalin introduced the political term “useful idiot” to describe that category of citizens who embraced and upheld Moscovite policy with innocent intentions. Following the defeat of communist regimes in Europe, we believed that this category would gradually be phased out, but the trend appears to have survived to this day, though not drawn to the influence of Moscow anymore.

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, also finance minister and leader of the socialists in the Netherlands, stirred serious controversy on Wednesday in comments to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung when he said that “I cannot spend all my money on liquor and women and then ask for your support” in reference to countries that have required bailouts.

He came under fire from Spanish and Italian Euro MPs, as well as from the Portuguese leadership, yet Dijsselbloem did not back down or apologize for his comments. Even a spokesperson for the European Commission appeared critical, and former Italian premier Matteo Renzi called for his resignation as Eurogroup head.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, however, thought it appropriate to instead talk about his appreciation of the work done by his Dutch counterpart at the helm of the body that determines economic policy in the eurozone.

The Dutch are obviously not the useful idiots of this era. They are hardworking, intelligent people who, however, did not appreciate Dijsselbloem’s contribution to the eurozone, as is evident by his party’s abysmal performance in last week’s general elections. Proponents of the mob mentality theory will probably argue that this just a sign of immaturity.

Similarly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy resulted in a boost for the new far-right and for liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte being able to maintain his majority only after adopting the agenda of his main adversary and escalating, without reason, the tension with Turkey.

Germany’s performance may be admirable when it comes to the economy, but it is in no way ready to lead Europe. The established European powers obviously do not see Berlin as a major challenge, but this is not true of Washington, as was apparent during Merkel’s meeting with US President Donald Trump. To get some idea of Trump’s priorities we need only look at the absence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from the NATO summit because of a visit to the US by the Chinese prime minister and his plans to travel to Moscow in late April.

It is not wise to ignore all these signs. Europe is not as powerful or as united as its leaders are so eager to prove, and the useful idiots, wherever they may be, are doing nothing but a disservice to themselves and others.