Former European Mandarin Exposes Intrigue, Illusions and Dangers

Derk-Jan Eppink

For more than seven years, Dutchman Derk-Jan Eppink worked behind the scenes of the European Commission in Brussels. As a cabinet member of commissioners Frits Bolkestein and Siim Kallas, he saw how what he called "the European mandarins" exercised their power. With the journalistic experience he had gained earlier at newspapers like the Dutch NRC Handelsblad and the Belgian De Standaard, Eppink wrote a book about the EU power culture. Last Wednesday, he and his former boss Frits Bolkestein presented the book at the Centre for European Policy Studies. The Brussels Journal was there and recorded some remarkable comments from both men.

Eppink tells how he discovered that the essential thing for a European official is to learn the procedures. "Because once you know how the procedures work, you can start to manipulate the process. I arrived in 1984 as a Calvinist, I'm leaving in 2007 as a Jesuit", Eppink said, referring to the differences between the principle-driven approach of the protestant Dutch and the devious conspiracies which are sometimes attributed to the catholic order of the Jesuits.

"I have learned all the necessary survival techniques to be a mandarin: intrigue, trickery and deceit. Many politicians in the Netherlands adhere to the view that intrigue is a very bad thing. But in fact, it works very well. Let me give you one example. My commissioner Frits Bolkestein had very strong views on immigration. He never went along with the line of the Commission to turn the European Union into an "immigration union". But at a meeting in 2001, it seemed that Bolkestein had agreed to a decision without knowing what he had agreed to. Only after the meeting, he found out what the decision meant, because it was on the front page of the Financial Times: "European Union = immigration union". Of course, he wanted to get rid of this decision. He asked: what can I do now? It is now the official line of the commission to open up Europe to full immigration from Northern Africa and the Middle East.
I said: the only thing we can do is to start an intrigue! We will have to ask Ministers of Justice in the member countries to try to undermine the proposal of the Commission. And that is exactly what we did. Without informing the Commission - because when you start an intrigue, you should not leave any traces - we made appointments with Ministers of Justice in the member countries. At that time, Belgium was the president of the European Council. So Bolkestein and I made an appointment with the Belgian minister of Justice, Marc Verwilghen, a very nice man. We met and we had a good lunch with lots of champagne. We agreed that the European proposal was totally unrealistic. I asked Verwilghen to try to get it off the agenda of the Commission and to bury it somewhere in his office, never to be seen again. And that is exactly what happened. A few weeks later, 9/11 happened, and public opinion and politicians got a completely different view on immigration.
This attempt of an intrigue, I have to admit, worked very well. That is how the European Commission works: there are procedures, but luckily there are also ways around the procedures."


Karel Lannoo, Derk-Jan Eppink


Karel Lannoo from the Centre for European Policy Studies asked Eppink if he saw some similarities between the EU and the late USSR. Eppink made a comparison between the two in the field of rhetoric, in mechanisms and in the way power is used.

  • The Soviet Union wanted to harmonize as much as possible within a single political framework. This is also the mission of the European Union.
  • The Soviet Union was administered by a political elite. So is the European Union.
  • The Soviet Union saw itself as a utopian state. The European federalists have much the same views.
  • The Soviet Union had a single bureaucratic center, like the one in the European Union.
  • The Soviet Union was dominated by a powerful secretary general. So are the European institutions.
  • The Soviet Union had party ideologists. The European Union has legal counselors.
  • The Soviet Union wanted to create a viable society through a series of official procedures. So does the European Union.
  • The Soviet Union had apparatchiks, the European Union has mandarins.
  • The Soviet Union had a five year plan. The European Union has a work program.
  • The Soviet Union saw socialist integration as an irreversible process. The European Union sees integration as a means for an "ever closer Union".
  • The Soviet Union claimed to act on behalf of a mythical worker. The European Union has its mythical citizen.
  • The Soviet Union wanted to surpass the United States. The European Union has been trying to do the same thing for many years.

Eppink concluded the comparison:

"All in all, the Soviet Union lacked the self-correcting forces and the self-criticism which are proper to the democratic process. The European Union lacks these properties in the same way. By setting targets which are either too far away or unrealistic, you are undermining the legitimacy of the project and of the institutions which have to implement these policies. With this book, I want to warn for imperial overstretch and for the creation of expectations which are far-fetched and unrealistic. Sometimes I have the impression that the European Union is moving towards the same trap that finished the Soviet Union."



Frits Bolkestein

Eppink's former boss Frits Bolkestein warned of the dangers of the "pensée unique" and of political correctness. One day later, EC president José Manuel Barroso echoed this warning in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. Bolkestein went on and identified three big illusions Europeans are cherishing out of a sense of self-defense:

  1. If we are nice to the world, then the world will be nice to us. If we leave radical leaders alone, then nothing will happen to us.
  2. Mentally, we are preparing for our retirement. Nothing new, please! Will prosperity be sustained? We'll worry about that later.
  3. The best protection against globalisation is isolation.


Bolkestein warned for cultural capitulation, or what he calls "lack of cultural self-confidence":

"This became clear in the issue of the Danish cartoons. Most member states left Denmark in the lurch. One year later, virtually none of the European leaders defended the Pope when he made a perfectly defensible speech on the relationship between reason and faith. Europe is censuring itself with the Council preparing a special lexicon in order to counter what it calls "the use of offensive language". The word 'Muslim' is to be avoided because it is allegedly "inflammatory". European leaders wallow in apologetic behaviour. During his visit to India, Mr Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer was asked to say something about insults made by an English girl against a film actress from Mumbai. The chancellor of the exchequer had to apologize for a reality show. I agree with Derk Jan Eppink's view that this cultural capitulation currently forms the most serious threat to Europe."


The book by Derk-Jan Eppink, "Life of a European Mandarin - Inside the Commission" is available in English (at and in Dutch.


Yes, that article by Bolkestein is a translated transcript of the speech he gave at the presentation of the book by Eppink.

Responding to the response

@ KA


1) Corruption is not exactly "omnipresent", but it can be found in many places.  However, that doesn't mean that it should be 'tolerated' on that basis.


2) Nowhere in the article was any reference made to the USA.  It is a sign of your obsessive anti-Americanism that a comparison between the EU and the late USSR leads you to suspect that "unfavorable comparisons" are being made between Europe and the USA.  

3)  The American Republic was indeed founded upon "Anglo-European values", but with the proviso that they were values of the 18th century.  After more than two centuries the values of both continents are increasingly diverging, as they are responding in different ways to various cultural challenges facing western civilisation. 


4) "Bringing out the best of European civilisation" SHOULD involve pointing out what is going wrong with European civilisation.   And intolerance for self-critical thought (even criminalisation of 'unorthodox' thinking in various recent legislation of various European countries)  is a big part of that.

5) Your assertion that Japan "voluntarily" has "embraced western values" is debatable, and it is almost certainly too soon to make definitive judgments on the "embracing" part.  Let's just say that the current Japanese elites realise that in order to survive as 'Japanese' they will have to remain allied with that part of the west that will remain truly 'democratic' (i.e. that escapes 'similarities' with the USSR and the CCP).

6)  I suspect that in the future there will be more similarity between Europe and North America than you seem to envisage (i.e. beyond the certainty that neither will be lilly-white).   

In Response

Firstly, corruption is omnipresent; it can be found amongst senior bureaucrats and politicians in every state on Earth. It surprises me that Mr. Eppink is naiive to the world of politics. Secondly, those comparisons he between the European Union and the Eastern Bloc are general and overly simplistic and therefore with slight modifications can me made to apply to almost any polity. Thirdly, this response to the challenges of globalization is found in whole or part in every state e.g. the power of American trade unions to hamper greater implementation of robotics as was the case in Japan and Germany.


In the final analysis, the American republic is founded upon Anglo-European values upheld by a population that hails from the British Isles and continental Europe. Although the United States selectively chose which values to adopt (e.g. a liberal democratic legal regime coupled with strong Protestant (esp. Calvinist) cultural elements), and which not to (e.g. the monarchy, aristocracy, absolutism, etc.), these values were not its own. As American demographics changes such that non-Hispanic Whites become a minority, so too will American values. Other cultures and civilizations have had centuries to embrace Western values (if these are indeed universally the best), however, only a few have voluntarily (e.g. Japan). If the Brussels Journal's mission is to bring out the best of European civilization, than it has my full support. If its mission alternately is to draw unfavorable comparisons between the United States and Europe in which the latter is always ridiculed, than I do not support it. Europe and the United States will never be the same, unless of course their future similarity is that neither are White.


Bolkenstein is great. Fwence power workers cut his power in a show of socialist opposition to his ideas. Of couse nobody was arrested because such things are tolerated in Fwance.
Real Good.....

Bolkenstein, EUSSR and USA

Bolkenstein is great.  Fwence power workers cut his power in a show of socialist opposition to his ideas.  Of couse nobody was arrested because such things are tolerated in Fwance.


Regarding the EU vs. USSR I would have to add the US to that.  Having been fully indoctrinated in US pc/socialist public education I really do not see it as being all that different.  Power was given up to Washington under the guise of defense and economic growith under Roosevelt and it was never given back.  Example:


California and Michigan have both passed laws banning racial preferences.  Washington links highway funding and other federal monies to states complying with their insane racial/gender preferences program.  Conclusion:  California still discriminates against white men (despite them being far in the minority) and Michigan is likely to continue to do the same.  I refuse to live in a country that considers me a second class citizen which is one of the reasons I left the US.  The insanity has in no way run its course either.  Look at Harvards new boss.