03 Mar

Former President of the European Council misses the news

Placed on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 by Publistat

Herman Van Rompuy


In 1990 Robert Maxwell founded The European, Europe's first national newspaper, an adventure that lasted till December 1998. Circulation peaked at 180,000, over half of which was British. Almost as old, but still in the business is the European Voice, established by The Economist Group, both in print and online. Circulation 20,000. And there is The European Daily, written by a network of leading journalists. At this moment only online, but they're trying to publish in paper as well. European TV? Euronews is a multilingual news TV channel, based in France, its first broadcast was on 1 January 1993 from Lyon. Founded by a group of ten European public broadcasters, but it received criticism for perceived bias towards the European Commission that provides a significant part of the channel's funding...

No, he does not have Obama's swagger or the animal charisma of Putin. It is 10.30 when Mr. Van Rompuy walks me to his office, no longer in the Justus Lipsius building, the seat of the European Council, but on the second floor in the headquarters of the European People's Party. I'm his first appointment: his schedule is clearly better since he stepped down as President of the European Council. Dressed in a grey suit, and a long grey overcoat, some splashes of Brussels rain on its shoulders, hair grey, he could have been a professor, maybe an accountant.
'My biggest source of information disappeared, all of a sudden, on December 1st,' he says. 'Until then I was in the heart of the news, I didn't have to read the newspapers, the news came to me.'

You created the news, you mean?
'Not just that, but also because maybe ten times a day, I met with people from all over the world, giving me not only the news and information, but also the analyses. I should read a lot more now to be informed. It's a handicap, but one has to accept he's no longer an actor. And one shouldn't want to know everything.'

But what do you read?
'Pfff, I read the Belgian papers, and all the major European press, but not on a daily basis.'
His desk is empty.
'I prefer to read fiction,' he says.

Or even write? Haiku's perhaps?
That's what I had read about him, that he likes Haiku's and Elvis Presley - typically the kind of personal information that makes fans or people who need to thank him give him Presley-related paraphernalia or their own badly written haiku's. Like me: on the first page of the book I give him - my own novel - I write 'De Youropeans/mooie overeenkomsten/mooie verschillen'.

Mark SchalekampWriter and journalist Mark Schalekamp travels the EU for his project Youropeans. In every city he interviews a doctor, barber, an immigrant, a prostitute, local celebrity, police officer, businessman and an artist. And he shares his view on the media landscape for Publistat.