The EU summit in Sibiu will help decide Europe's future and who we are as Europeans. But the outlook doesn't have to be doom and gloom.
There are a lot of expectations as regards the European Union’s future. Some prefer doom and gloom outlooks. Some are cautiously optimistic and point to the way the European Union was created; by leaps of faith and treaty modification, turning crisis into opportunity. Periodically, one builds on momentum, enabling a glimpse inside the EU club and, more importantly, its future. The European summit in Sibiu this week is a symbolic example; it’s the place where the Future Of Europe could get a boost, if not a road map.
This month is also election time. This extra momentum means that Sibiu will be less influenced by European parliamentary voices. Prime ministers and presidents participating in the summit know that beyond photos and niceties, it’s election time for their parties in three weeks. If the European Commission, partially a lame duck due to its last six months, speaks of "selling" the EU to the citizens, the Council then needs to do some communicating within its own ranks. The truth is photos of smiling leaders at European Summits no longer suffice to make citizens optimistic about our future together. Of course, after seeing the mess of Brexit, mismanagement helps their cause. It's normal for citizens to become more EU supportive, but is this support real or is it a case of reverse "Project Fear", in other words "Project Safe (or rather, Project Safer) inside the EU"?
The biggest challenge for the Council will be mending wounds and appeasing strong wills of government heads. The Romanian EU Presidency will also do its best to give a feeling of unity and trust in our common EU future. Ironically, Bucharest is itself enduring internal political turmoil with the campaign for European elections running mostly on patriotic slogans. But the good news is this feeling of unrest at home has never stopped the country , looking back at its history, from delivering abroad. Hopefully, EU leaders will understand the value of symbolism and there will be a united front at the summit , affording Europeans more of a sense of trust in their common project. The draft text of the summit declaration seems to hint in the right, optimistic, direction.
Sibiu, in my opinion, needs to offer inspiration, unity and sense of purpose, and, yes why not, help us remind who we are and what is our global model. Here is how I think it could do that.
Inspiration beyond technocracy: One for all and all for one?
The past 10 years have increasingly pitted East vs West and North vs South; not because member States were not thinking the same, but because they refused to deal with the same things. All four quadrants of the EU pushed and asked for more cohesion; a more unified front a spirit of ‘one for all and all for one’. The difficulties arose when the East wanted more security and the West asked for some caveats to security. Or when the South asked for more largesse on prudential norms, while the North asked for more rigour, and so on.
It is fair to say that all members was asking for more (and definitely thought they deserve more as being part of the EU club), but each wanted its own exceptions. Again, the irony is that the funds spent to mitigate various exceptions, deadline extensions and transitions could have covered the effort for everyone to march towards maximal objectives. Maybe we just need more flexibility in thinking, and this is valid both for our internal (within the club) and external (global) battles and objectives.
Looking at the Commission’s proposed vision for 2019-2024, in the ideas released before the summit, I couldn’t help wonder why at 5. Influential Europe the UN is referenced and has become central to the Commission’s views of late. Of course, the whole world order that we know today is based on the UN, but the recent interest of EU institutions in the organisation sounds much too much like either preparing a surprise for the French (after Brexit finally gets done) or signaling towards Trump once again that we stand for multilateralism.
There are better ways to proclaim Europe’s leadership in the world. Would it be better to sell a model of globalization with European Characteristics, as a blueprint for the rest of the world (signalling pride on our successful model at home)? Whatever happened to the “we shall fight on the beaches…the streets… we shall never surrender’ mentality? Was a besieged Britain more of a global leader than the EU27 can be in today’s world? If so, what do we need to do to have the strength of will to make Europe great (as a whole, not again? Without inspiration, chances are you will win the policy battle, but you will lose the people if you continue on the same technocratic path.
Sibiu gives genuine momentum to unity and sense of purpose
The informal EU27 leaders’ meeting in Sibiu on 9 May 2019 is the right moment to renew our unity and our sense of purpose,” states the documents describing the Council’s upcoming meeting. Then let’s do this right. The Commission’s document aforementioned is confusing (or smart politically if the purpose is promote Jean-Claude Juncker’s legacy) as most of what the EU has been communicating so far is about industrial leadership and export engines of the Union. The document released on 30 April, on the other hand, talks about priorities and policies stemming from societal organic developments and the resulting from analysis having people at heart.
The natural and logical conclusion of that would be that immigration, forced and accelerated modernisation, as well as uniformization (or dissolution) of cultures should be stopped immediately; either through policies or equivalent measures. We should also start working more on Euro-ethno-centric societies, Japanese and Korean-style societies in which technological futurism blends with perennial traditions, crafts and ways of life, and immediately start setting aside corridors of virgin nature criss-crossing Europe in which no urban and carbon footprint will ever be allowed.
Who we are and the global model we are offering
In order to renew our unity and sense of purpose we need to live and feel European again with everything this entails - and not just the dictionary definition of how democracies should be. We need to know who we are and what we stand for to continue leading the world in ecology, health, and quality of life, and to start harbouring global ambitions again. These ambitions do not necessarily have to be imperial: the competition for global power is crowded, but it's still better to be "power not prey," as Le Monde’s Sylvie Kauffmann wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times.
What the EU can do is to continue providing the global standard by offering a form of globalization with European hallmarks; where fairness and liberty are at the core of things, but also where citizens are at centre of attention and everything else - from industrial strategy to security and defence policies - is there to ensure that we never give up on our citizens or surrender our place in the world. Also, speaking of things to surrender, perhaps, we should also stop surrendering our Christian identity, while promoting interfaith dialogue and tolerance. Different churches or other faith locations in Sibiu bear witness that this can be done. There can be unity among diversity of identities.
The successful future of Europe is a combination of European and national identities and pride, driven by a clear agenda - and political determination - to succeed as a society in a competitive, less cooperative future.
Radu Magdin is a strategic communications analyst and consultant and former Prime Ministerial advisor in Romania and Moldova
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