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Let’s recruit our politicians from overseas

French President Emmanuel Macron, surrounded by Lebanese servicemen, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. Credit: Thibault Camus / Getty Images

September 29, 2020 - 9:00am

If Emmanuel Macron weren’t already President of France, you’d think he were some populist challenging for power in Lebanon. Weeks after the devastating Beirut explosion, he’s still condemning the country’s politicians. And, to be fair, they’re hopeless — unable to form a new government despite the desperate need for reform. “The failure is theirs, the responsibility is theirs”, Macron told reporters in Paris.

Perhaps, after he’s done in France, Macron should run for office in Lebanon. Obviously, he’s not Lebanese, but if the voters wanted him anyway, then why not?

He wouldn’t be the first politician from one country to hold an important position in another. For instance, Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Prime Minister of Georgia, was subsequently appointed governor of Odessa in Ukraine. Then there’s the case of Dominic Samuel Fritz, a German citizen who’s just won the mayoralty of Timișoara — Romania’s third largest city.

One of the reasons why European politicians love the EU so much is that it gives them another shot after their careers peak back home. For instance, Jean-Claude Juncker, Guy Verhofstadt and Donald Tusk were all former Prime Ministers (of Luxembourg, Belgium and Poland). In Germany, Ursula Von Der Leyen didn’t get further than a lacklustre spell as defence minister, but just look at her now!

Obviously none of those four were actually elected to their EU roles (at least, not by the mere citizenry), but if, as ordinary voters, we were given a chance to choose imported politicians, would we?

British voters might. As far back as 2001, English football fans were willing to accept Sweden’s Sven-Göran Eriksson as England manager — and then, a few years later, Italy’s Fabio Capello. It’s also worth mentioning Canada’s Mark Carney, who put in a few years as Governor of the Bank of England. As a country, we didn’t bat an eyelid. Meanwhile, in the business world, it’s entirely unremarkable for leading British businesses to draw upon a global pool of talent for their most senior appointments.

For all the talk of British xenophobia, this is a country where people from other countries can play the most prominent roles in our national life. Even the royal family is German.

So why shouldn’t the same apply to politics? Of course, we’ve had a number of prominent politicians who were born in other countries — like Gisela Stuart (Germany) and, for that matter, Boris Johnson (America). But would we accept someone who’d held the highest office elsewhere? It depends on who it was, but if it were Barack Obama, for example, then yes we could.

The Covid crisis has shown that our domestic pool of governmental talent isn’t exactly bottomless, so why not draw upon other sources? Our top politicians — and senior civil servants — wouldn’t like the competition, but don’t forget they’ve spent the last 50 years opening up our economy to all sorts of competitive pressures.

They’ve created global markets in just about everything — including our jobs. So why not theirs?

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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