The Maastricht Diplomat

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  • Peter Pelzer

Troubled leadership

The future is bright. Exam week is over. Memories of video clips on double speed and warmly recommended readings fade. They fade much faster than they were once tediously entrenched onto a winter-blue short-term memory. Nothing is forever, especially not the details of legal history or biomedical engineering. What a relief. And as we emerge from our study caves to marvel at the Platonic idea of a halfway normal life, we find most of the Covid restrictions lifted just in time. But between the long-awaited visits to Preps and De Gouverneur, let’s take a look at the headlines that we missed.


All around us, leadership has been troubled this week. Going into the week, Boris Johnson maintained his confusion as to whether the lockdown parties at No. 10 were parties or just work meetings with booze. He insisted he would have to read up on it in the report by Sue Gray. The report was set to be released last Tuesday, but was suddenly postponed after the Metropolitan Police raised concerns it could prejudice its own investigations into the breach of lockdown rules. The release has now been ‘imminent’ at least since Friday. Meanwhile the public appears to be quite certain that the parties were parties without waiting for confirmation by a report. Some went so far as to ‘leak’ the obvious, causing some stir among attendees.


Across the Atlantic, Joe Biden also caused a major scandal. Just days after he had called a Fox reporter a bad word, he dared to eat ice cream. In public. In winter. Fox news is understandably outraged. In more interesting news, the White House named two-year old Willow its new ‘First Feline’. As of now, the cat has not been seen eating ice cream, nor wearing tan suits. It remains to be seen how long Willow will be able to avoid stirring conservative anger.


Meanwhile, today’s elections in Portugal may take a decisive turn after the intervention of another cat. Incumbent Prime Minister António Costa of the Socialist Party was comfortably leading the polls until Social Democratic challenger Rui Rio dragged his cat, Zé Albino, into the political limelight. However, these elections will not only be a test of feline influence over human politics, but also how well the Portuguese left can continue to fend off the rising far right. Portugal remained relatively immune to emerging nationalist sentiments across Europe in recent years. But more recently, the right-wing Chega (“Enough”) movement has gained momentum. The traditional political forces may even depend on Chega’s cooperation in parliament in the future.


In Germany, cooperation with the far-right AfD continues to be a point of major controversy. An informal pact among all established democratic parties forbids even the semblance of cooperation with the party. Not all conservative politicians are quite so steadfast though and they continue poke holes into the pact. Max Otte, member of the Christian Democratic party, accepted a nomination by the AfD for the office of Federal President, which will be newly elected by the Federal Convention on 13 February. Otte has no realistic chance against incumbent President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is supported by the majority government coalition along with Otte’s own party. Nevertheless, he was promptly expelled from his party.


Much more confused presidential elections were held in Italy this week. Among an impressive panel of candidates, Silvio Berlusconi made a reappearance, but ultimately decided to withdraw his candidacy. Still, it took a grand total of eight ballots by the assembly of lawmakers and regional representatives until current President Sergio Mattarella was elected with a clear majority. Mattarella had originally refused to run for a second term, but was under pressure by the government parties, who failed to agree on a successor.

Maastricht University seems to have had less trouble finding a successor for Rianne Letschert in the office of Rector Magnificus. While Letschert herself takes over the university presidency, the vacant rectorship is taken up by Pamela Habibović. Habibović, whose research focuses on inorganic biomaterials as nanoparticles for theranostics, will start in her new office on Tuesday. The celebration of the handover had been scheduled for last Friday, but was postponed to May due to Covid restrictions. At press time, nobody told them that they could have just declared it a work event.

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