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Europe Issue: A Britain with a Deep Passion for the Continent, Jonathan Scheele Profile

Submitted by on December 21, 2011 – 3:26 pmNo Comment

Jonathan Scheele of the European Commission.

Thirty two Smith Square, in the heart of London was the home of the Conservative party until 2004. Now it houses one of the Thatcher era’s biggest enemies, the European Commission. Representing Europe is no easy task says 63-year-old Jonathan Scheele especially in the middle of the current economic crisis.

The most difficult task he faces every day is explaining Europe to UK citizens and politicians yet, “despite everything, people in quite large numbers are more interested in learning about the EU than you can necessarily glean from reading some of the press” He says. “The other part of the job is try to explain what’s going on in the UK to those in Brussels and that’s sometimes more difficult.”

The big question is why a young Cambridge graduate would even choose to go into European politics? “Think back to the early 70s, it was relatively popular and there was a referendum in 1975 after a sort of renegotiation,” he says. He still enjoys acting as representative for Europe in his home country even when 67% of the population want to see a referendum on their membership in the European Union. Those polls are paradoxical says Scheele, “The population actually quite like results from the EU, they just don’t go with the institutional process. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic attitude.” Most of the anti-European attitude that the UK’s population has, comes from the negative and what he calls banal media stories about the EU, “Published with no attempt to check with any EU sources about the facts. We sent them a letter [you can see the letter on their website] explaining the facts. And why let the facts get in the way of good anti-EU story?” Scheele says, “You know that’s the frustration,” adding that media coverage is the biggest problem he faces. Whatever the everyday problems are he still enjoys the job saying it gives him, “The opportunity to try to get a better understanding, particularly for me, of my own country,” after having spent so much time away from it.

He stopped living in the UK regularly in 1975 and worked in Brussels and Geneva, in different policy areas. In 2001 he  finally got into representing the Commission directly and went to Romania. Scheele says that the five years he spent there were fantastic, professionally and personally, “I had the opportunity to play a part in trying to sort out problems in Romania. And the country itself is an amazing country,” he adds. Especially important for him during his time there was the possibility to get closer to his two children and his wife who, although she isn’t a European official but instead works as a teacher, was for the first time able to work with him as a team.The bookshelves behind his desk are filled with books about Romania revealing  his love for the country. Five years there were enough though, and he decided that it was time to move on, “Romania needs to be more self reliant and not to, sort of, appeal to the Commission for an opinion.”

Scheele admits there are things the European Union doesn’t do well but feels that the accusation that Brussels over-regulates is unfounded. He describes that what he and the European Commission mainly do is suggest what they think should be done on a pan-European scale to simplify the single market. Once it comes to implementing it every member will try to have its say and, “what started off as something relatively simple ends up a bit more complicated.”

An obviously important point for the European Union and one that Scheele is confronted with every day is the economic crisis. Getting through the crisis is going to be a difficult task for the EU and for the UK Scheele says but despite the public annoyance with the UK that was shown by some EU members he says, “The EU has no desire to see London loose its role. It brings the biggest financial centre in the world.”

His German background becomes apparent when he talks about the current crisis. He displays a comprehensive knowledge of past and current German politics and asserts that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has so far played the most active and important role in fixing the crisis but sees the European Central Bank playing a bigger role in the near future. The upcoming elections in France and Germany in the next two years won’t have any impact on the crisis he predicts, “We can’t afford to wait till then. The December 9 European Council is probably… a critical date.”

If the crisis is solved and, “if the EU gets its act together then I think the mentality in the UK towards the EU may change in a positive direction,” he says with a hopeful smile.

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