Captain Europe is hanging up his cape after seven years as the European Union’s only superhero. But he told euractiv.com that he was on the lookout for a successor to put on the mask.
Captain Europe is a well-known character in the Brussels bubble. A European public servant by day, he becomes Europe’s only superhero by night.
Europe spoke to EURACTIV News Editor James Crisp.
Captain Europe, you are hanging up your cape. Why?
Yes, indeed. As many of my critics have pointed out very vocally, having middle aged men running around in skin-tight Lycra is a little bit unseemly. I always said I would retire when I hit 40. Then came the European public service reform. They said we all had to work three years longer so I am retiring at 43. At least from public appearances. I am not going anywhere. I will still be keeping the Twitter account for the time being at least but yes I am hanging up the cape and more to the point hanging up the Lycra.
But you are Europe’s only superhero and you are needed now more than ever.
Well, there is never a good time for a superhero to retire but all good things come to an end. People were saying the same thing in 2008 with the financial crisis, 2010 with the sovereign debt crisis and now we have Trump and Brexit. We have the difficulties in Hungary and Poland and we have Marine Le Pen looming across the border in France. Probably there will be crisis in the future and we have had crises in the past. We had General De Gaulle’s non to the British in the late sixties. My goodness, how prescient that was.
How long have you been Captain Europe?
I first came up with the idea in 2006 at a carnival party. I was dressed as a monk at the time. There were various people dressed as various superheroes and I thought, why doesn’t Europe have its own superhero? I came up with a prototype for a carnival costume but then it took on a life of its own after I did my first public appearance as an experiment in 2009.
It’s been ten years.
Ten years since the prototype and seven years since the first public appearance.
Why do you do it? What made you don the mask?
Ever since I was a child I always had a very strong sense of justice. That’s a value that superheroes often fight for. The other thing the European Union sadly suffers from these days is a shortage of truth. It’s a problem with politics in general actually. People keep saying we live in a post-truth era. There’s been an awful lot of untruths. So I thought somebody fighting for truth and justice might do the European public sphere some good.
Who are your enemies?
I haven’t identified an individual as an enemy. I try not to think in those terms.
So you don’t have a Joker?
No, but people have described the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as clowns. But I have no joker as such, nor Penguin. But anyone who misrepresents or distorts what we are trying to achieve – I try and iron that out again.
But I think people in European public life who have conflicts of interest do give the shop a bad name.
You are talking about Commissioners Oettinger, Kroes, former President Barroso…
Kroes was a big disappointment to me. I posed for pictures with her when she was a Commissioner. She did some good work on roaming and getting a better deal for European consumers in telecommunications in particular. But when you are entering public life you need to make sure that you are clean and don’t have conflicts of interest. As officials, we have very high standards of keeping conflicts of interest to a minimum and declaring any that come up. It is utterly galling when the political level fails to keep to the same standards.
It reflects badly on everyone when MEPs and Commissioners behave badly, it rubs off on the rest of us. The general public lump Eurocrats into one big barrel and think that we are all at it which is not the case.
What are your favourite memories?
I was on the way to a public appearance on the metro a few months ago. The train lurched suddenly and a lady on crutches fell over and hurt herself. A homeless lady as it happens. I was able to help her up. I had my ever-present first aid kit on my utility belt. It was very humbling to just kneel before her and tend to her wounds and actually be helpful. I think she appreciated the TLC.
What are your thoughts on the state of Europe?
There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic but also reasons to be hopeful. We are seeing signs of a repeat for some of the things that happened in the 1930s. That is very much milder and kept within limits than it was 80 or 90 years ago. I think that is largely because we are bound together in this imperfect and unfinished European project. That has stopped the Orbans of this world going completely off the rails. I am hopeful we can get them back on the rails and they will see the benefits of pluralism, democracy and a free press.
Boxers say they retire but always come out for one last fight. Is the cape really going on the peg? Is the mask really being locked away in the Captain Europe cave?
More or less. There are a couple of things. A charity event and a final farewell that I am trying to organise next week. But in terms of prancing around in lira I hope to have that wrapped up by the end of this year. But I will still be around in plain clothes and on social media. And who knows? A successor may be found. Possibly under a new name.
Are you actively looking for a successor?
Yes, interested people should drop me a message on Facebook or Twitter?
What qualities do you need?
A commitment to the European project and being multi-lingual. I speak six languages and one possible successor speaks five. The third thing you need to do is the Lycra thing or at least feel confident enough in yourself to pull that off.
Applications are open to men and women?
Absolutely. I’ve long said that in the interests of gender balance we should have a superheroine.
Is there any chance you will forego your anonymity?
No, not for my own sake but for the sake of those I love. My in-laws don’t even know that I am Captain Europe. My other half does and kind of tolerates it but is very glad I am retiring!