As I stood on Saint Peter's Square awaiting the famous smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. In a world where a lack of leadership is bemoaned daily by journalists, political analysts and the general public, here was a definitive opportunity to see a new leader in the making.
Because, irrespective of who occupies the Holy See, the papacy has the potential for leadership that is probably only rivaled by the potential of the office of the president of the United States.
Pope Francis has already shown that he is keen to give the Catholic Church a new sense of itself. His gestures (like shunning the armoured car and bodyguard and going to pray at the Rome basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on short notice) demonstrate that for the new pontiff “leading by example” is not an empty concept. I have a feeling he'll be a respected global figure, both as a spiritual leader and statesman.
Actually, if one casts a look around the world, there are plenty of leaders. Although I did not approve of his policies, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was one. Aun Sang Su Chi in Burma is yet another example of charisma, ideas and perseverance fusing to create a real leader. Vladimir Putin and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, despite their bitter hatred of each other and no matter what one thinks of their policies, have already left their mark in history.
Curiously enough, it is only in the European Union where the emergence of major political personalities is an increasingly rare occasion. European leaders are not almost universally dull and uncharismatic, but they are also mostly intellectually mediocre. A few bright exceptions, like the clever and ironic Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, Polish minister of foreign affairs Radoslav Sikorski and Sweden's long-serving MFA (and former premier) Carl Bildt are the only exceptions I could find. They combine a sharp intellect, willingness to challenge dated wisdoms and a public presence.
The EU is the only area of the world where these characteristics frequently disqualify a person from achieving major public office. What started as the Europeans' post-war desire to avoid future conflict morphed into complacency and fear of healthy debate. Don't mention religion (except if it is the famous 'religion of peace' of 9/11 fame), don't mention national history, don't mention values – unless it is a prescribed set of secularist dogma on permanent offer from Brussels – and you can count on great advancement as a political leader in the EU's councils of the holy ... er, sorry, just councils.
Hence the result: if you are looking for fresh thinking in Europe you are left with either Front National and its imitators in other countries, the 'New Left' or the clowns like Beppo Grillo (but then, who said they are actually thinking anything?) Actually, Grillo's astonishingly high result is a sharp and dark testimony of the Europeans' disillusionment with traditional politics and their inability to cope with it. It's no wonder the EU cannot find its way out of the current crisis – the politics of consensus evolved into the politics of paralysis. I do not think highly of Barack Obama's policies and do not find him a very effective leader, but those European politicians who pledge their love to him look really small compared to the US president.
So here comes Pope Francis, who may well try to shake up Europe's lethargic Catholics into remembering that they are Christians – and Catholics - after all. I wish him success but am not very certain of his success in the Old World. For leadership and vision these days it’s more logical to look to Brazil, rather than Brussels.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.