2017The EU project took two massive blows in 2016. Brexit, obviously, but of even greater concern, the arrival of Donald Trump. Trump is the first US President who is openly hostile to the European Union, and who makes no secret of his wish to break it up.
If you want to get an idea of how keen he is to see it all come crumbling down, just watch Ted Malloch, the incoming US Ambassador to the EU likening the EU to the Soviet Union, here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mxFUa1wzEw) – its pretty breathtaking. Imagine the EU Ambassador in Washington saying similar thing. That’s right, you can’t.
So we have some fraught times ahead of us.
In this climate, the onus is really on the EU not to let itself be kicked around by competing prejudices in Washington and Moscow. That means getting back to work on delivering an EU that its citizens feel benefits them, rather than something that is “done” to them. If all people hear about are new rules from Brussels about how powerful their vacuum cleaner must be, or another factory being relocated from one part of the Union to another, then they won’t support it. And it will fail.
But if Brussels begins to make real strides on heightening security, integrating the Eurozone and improving prospects for young people and the labour market, things will change. But to get those processes in place, you first need strong leaders in Paris and Berlin who share a vision about where the EU is going, and who then work together to achieve it. History has always shown that when France and Germany pull together, the EU advances. But there are clear question marks about that at the moment, we will know more in April after the French elections.
Populists are continuing to dominate the headlines in Europe, even when they’re not in power. The Dutch Prime Minister made a speech last week about values and identity, which could have been written by Marine Le Pen. This is unfortunate because there should be enough positive stories about the EU and free movement to take a much different approach to appealing to your electorate.
Take a recent summary of the European Parliament’s medium term priorities that was published recently. It sets out all of the work MEPs will carry out between now and 2019. Action on completing economic and monetary union, by establishing a budgetary capacity for the euro area. Action on social rights to improve people’s prospects in the labour market, while efforts to reduce transport-related energy consumption and emissions will continue even if the US reneges on its COP 21 obligations. These are all good stores.
But are they presented in a way that resonates with people?
For me, the problem is presentation of the EU is too detached from normal life. The EU is really crying out for leaders with strong communications skills, who connect with ordinary people, and turn large-scale projects into meaningful everyday language. Because this is what the populists do very well, and the EU institutions could learn a few things from them.
The vast majority of people I have met in the European Commission and Parliament are very hardworking, honest, and serious about their jobs. Sometimes, too serious. Perhaps what Brussels needs is to hire a whole load of journalists from tabloid newspapers. Otherwise I fear they will continue to come off second best in public debate.
Author: Alisdair Gray, International Analyst for the Global DIY Summit