Where’s the boeuf?

So now it’s France’s turn at the EU’s wheel for the next six months. The question is, will anyone remember it when it’s over?

In an interview with, Dominique Reynié, a professor at Sciences Po, said the French presidency and the EU can win some European hearts and minds by showing “a few positive signs, even modest ones, as long as they’re understandable,” to combat the prevailing doom and gloom.

I cannot disagree more. It is a good thing if the French presidency can accomplish a few consumer-friendly initiatives during the next six months, and several lend themselves. But the only things that are going to win European hearts and minds for Europe are VISION and LEADERSHIP.

Think Barak Obama. A young Senator from Illinois has captured the imagination of millions of Americans and achieved rock star status on the basis of a simple vision: Change. Without even much substance, Obama has given Americans a new hope in their country’s capacity for greatness. That is what Europe needs now – belief in its capacity for greatness.

There is no shortage of great European ideas. What about ensuring full portability of European public and private pensions? That would surely resonate with an aging population. What about a real European Coast Guard with its own ships flying the EU flag fishing refugees out of the sea on the evening news? What about a free Interrail ticket and spending money for every single European citizen once in their life? That would surely be money better invested than the millions wasted on farm subsidies and propping up industries better left to die.

At the 60th anniversary of the European Movement in the Hague, a weekend brainstorm produced several other visionary ideas, many of them centered on education. Why not vastly expand opportunities for young people to study in other countries, a kind of Erasmus for everyone? Why not create something similar for high school students? Why not introduce a pan-European civics course that would teach European students about the history and workings of Europe and the European Union in addition to those tired old schoolbooks focused on endless tales of dead kings and military conquests? Why not replace European national passports altogether with a European Union passport? Why not introduce more direct democracy in the European decision-making process? Why not field European teams for some Olympic contests rather than national teams? It works with golf, where a European team was presumably considered more likely to win than the team from the UK, Ireland or Germany alone.

The run-up to next year’s European Parliament elections offers another great opportunity for some European vision. Political groups in the European Parliament have been making noises for years about naming preferred candidates for president of the European Commission, and running on a kind of party-line ticket to which European citizens can relate. Let’s hope they actually do it this time, and that European heads of state and government respect the political groups’ nominations! The ability to increase the perception of democratic accountability of the European Commission by giving citizens a say in the selection of its president would force candidates for the job to actually campaign around Europe and demonstrate the kind of vision and excitement that’s usually lacking in EP elections.

There’s no shortage of visionary ideas for Europe. There’s just a shortage of leaders willing to embrace European visions and run with them.



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