Sometimes connections made over the years lead to unexpected and surprising results. Thanks to folks I know in Brussels, on 8th December I will be addressing a seminar in Paris entitled ’40 under 40′, organised by Europanova. Just among the attendees at the event will be politicians such as Franziska Brantner and Jeanine Hennis, and the speakers include MEPs and former Commissioners…

To say I am a bit daunted would be an understatement, so I need help from my blog readers, and people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

I have 5 minutes to give an introduction on this panel “Towards a European renewal” that should deal with these points:

  • Which Europe do we want?
  • What objectives should drive the European project in the early twenty-first century?
  • Can the economic crisis be an opportunity to redefine the motors of European integration around new prosperity, a coherent European energy policy, ecological sustainability and social justice?

Sandro Gozi (Member of Parliament from Italy) will also speak for 5 minutes, and Ulysse Gosset (Journalist from France Télévisions) will moderate.

So what should I say? There are of course themes that I have examined on this blog over the years that I will draw upon – regarding how EU level democracy does not function at present, how we need to move away from the discourse of ‘more Europe’, and how the economic problems facing the EU directly challenge its institutional setup. But I need something that is going to set this speech apart from all the others given at the event over the 3 days… Anyone contributing good suggestions below will be thanked in the presentation at the event!


  1. Aymeric L

    So Jon, did you make it?

    Hope we gave you enough input… What a pity I couldn’t come!

  2. french derek

    Perhaps aymeric had it right when he argued for Europe as a Republic of Common Good. This may have been the ideal behind the EU’s creation but it has been replaced by a Europe of Mercantilism, where Trade, Growth Greed even, have become the raison d’être for some (many?) member countries.

    Which Europe do we want? If we want a democratic Republic of the Common Good, how do we overcome current mercantile pressures? If we want Mercantilism what steps should we be taking to take a greater hold of our destiny (currently held by “the markets”)?

  3. DamienRM

    Hi guys,

    As you were saying, Jon, this is quite fun to read.

    But if I may, I find that the proposals I’ve seen for your intervention have been rather beside the point. Mostly what’s been suggested has been either 1- institutional (i.e. to deal with the ‘democratic deficit’) 2- having to do with the ever-fickle ‘European identity’.
    Having been in the EU bubble a few years I can understand this interpretation of the questions asked: we want an EU that would reflect the Europe we want. But the question didn’t actually concern the EU as an institutional construct at all, from the way I first read them (and this is where I realise that i’ve been ‘out’ of the bubble for a while). Let me try it out.

    1. Which Europe do we want?

    This question doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s very context-specific. I doubt it would have ever been formulated quite like this a few years ago.
    In any case, our answer has to model itself on what is happening in Europe around us. This last year.

    The momentousness of the events we are witnessing, the stakes that are involved, the ever closer edge of the abyss. Sorry if I sound ominous but the seriousness of this all-encompassing crisis (from financial to economic to social to existential crisis) cannot be solved by discussing how to get better EP elections next time around or whether Europarties should nominate commission presidents. I was an am still in favour of this of course but i doesn’t begin to address the enormity of the question: “which Europe do we want?”

    In a Europe that is undergoing a profound social crisis in its periphery, and a vicious attack, europe-wide on the European postwar settlement. The idea that the state can provide, as a last resort, the means for someone’s survival, is simply being done away with. It has enormous implications that the politicians do not understand when they discuss budgetary policy (be they heads of states & governments, MPs or MEPs).

    But the people understand it. They understand that everyone, all of us, are being robbed of our social rights, of our right to exist in a society that is compassionate and looks after everyone. And the direct budgetary reason we are being robbed like this is simple, and people see it very clearly too: the sheer malevolence and greed of the financial sector. The pharaonic and unending bailouts given to the banks.

    And most of all (today) the loaded gun that is held at Europe’s temples by the sovereign debt markets. Europe is being robbed blind, and at gunpoint. It’s no wonder people don’t bother to go vote.

    It’s not even that the EP doesn’t have any meaningful power (it doesn’t), but they know that even Sarko and Merkel don’t take the decisions.
    Well, these two officialise them. But the decisions are already shaped by the debt markets ahead of any summit. And what matters as soon as the summit ends, is how the markets react.

    I think Aymeric was getting close to it when he talked about going back to the republic, the respublica as the common, public good.

    “(idea of general interest + rule by the people).”

    That’s what it boils down to. What we want is a Europe acting for the interest of all on the planet, and ruled by all of its people.

    The general interest would demand immediate reform of the banking and financial sector. But that clearly wouldn’t be enough… which leads me to:

    2. What objectives should drive the European project in the early twenty-first century?

    Well here there are issues that have to guide our answer: our double challenge in this century is achieve social justice for our fellow human beings while imperatively reducing drastically our Greenhouse gases emissions.

    I think there are many possible answers from an economic, philosophic, ideological point of view, but there is one physical certitude, if none other:
    the unfettered production of ever more non-essential goods will have to be bridled.
    In other words. for the planet to survive, *growth*, that holy cow of all European politics, that leitmotiv of the European ‘left’, the word exhorted with a slightly shaky voice by so many ‘progressives’, this growth must be restrained.

    “Green” growth doesn’t exist. The Gross Domestic Product is a measure of the productive output of a given economy. Even when this output is in non-material services, this added value has an eventual physical, material, and hence environmental impact.

    In fact, GDP growth is not only environmentally harmful, but it’s also socially harmful: the more growth we have, the more of it goes to a tiny minority, enriching them even faster and therefore making the distribution of incomes in this society even worse than it is now.

    “Can the economic crisis be an opportunity to redefine the motors of European integration around new prosperity, a coherent European energy policy, ecological sustainability and social justice?”

    I’d say, remove the growth and you kill two birds with one stone. The idea shouldn’t be about getting *more* stuff, the idea is about making do with what we have, but just using it more rationally (which implies spreading it around more equally).

    I think that all government action, for example, should be directed towards improving not the “economic situation” (which is a modern fig leaf for ‘GDP growth’) but people’s very real needs. And the government’s report card shouldn’t be the GDP growth figures, it should be some sort of Happiness quotient. There’s many versions, some including among others gini coefficients, human development indexes, poverty levels, suicide rates, and such. The point is not to define it exactly.

    But Jon I think this would be the idea that I’d try to develop in 5 minutes: given the objectives of surviving the social and environmental constraints that are imposed on it, I think Europe should found its action on these human quotients.

    The most rational thing to do if our governments worked for that goal, in a time of crisis which would affect our happiness quotients, would be to act to defend the most important: people’s livelihoods. This would highlight what is for me the only structural way out of the crisis: European solidarity.

    The idea that European Integration can be used to impose the harshest austerity seen in decades in many countries, with a supranational or federal economic level imposing (in this case on greece, ireland, and portugal especially) socially crippling budgetary austerity ‘against their will’ if you like, this idea is dangerous. The EU’s bailouts are unloved because of the strings attached to it, which not-so-strangely remind those put by the IMF whenever they bail out a country.

    No, to contradict this scary image that is subtly appearing in our European minds about German rebirth (or not so subtle, see Arnaud Montebourg’s comments recently), we must do one thing: rebuild our entire welfare state at a European level. To come replace the one that’s being mercilessly and comprehensively destroyed.

    German tax payers paying for old people in Greece to still have a pension, rather than for state bailouts that go to the big European banks (happy owners of what has recently become a very lucrative Greek debt.)

    That’ll bring a whole bunch of other issues (funding / EU own revenues) that could also be sold very innovatively but this post is getting too long.

    Sorry if I was a little ‘with the fairies’ to the more mainstream political waters that I am not so used to navigate anymore.

  4. 1. A democratic socialist one.

    2. Dis-integration.

    3. Localisation, innit?

    Not sure if a joke about disintegration would work.

  5. Marton

    If i had to, id say this
    1 it would be the end of it if we knew what kind of europe we want.
    2. Having said that, the objective could be to create a policy marketplace, instead of harmonisation, with strict rules on areas where negative spillover is high (e.g. Keep ur budget deficit at zero but how u do it is ur thing. Obviously i am simplyfying things here)
    3. I like this crisis because it has brought forward all the faults academics have been talking about for decades. Most important for me is how we deal with and interpret sovereinity, but small vs big core vs pripheey community vs inter govt etc are all fun to watch. This crisis probavly means we need to close a long chapter of ambiguoty, set the record straight on a fw issues an start another one…. E.g. Wouldnt it be interesting to watch a popular vote on uk membership for example? Or look at how even bild zeirung is devoting large spaces to eu, sg is obviously brewing there, too… Point 2 with the spillovers is important here, because ppl need to explicitely know and accept a new definition of sovereignity, or continue kidding themselves until they lose their shirts

  6. European Citizen

    Since I brought up the Erasmus issue, I thought I would respond. First, it was obviously just an example: I’m not saying that sending every EU citizen on Erasmus exchange would make them embrace their common EU roots 🙂 I just wanted to say that one needs to experience the benefits of being an EU citizen before one could appreciate them (there is no certainty that one will, though).
    @ Aymeric
    I found the Erasmus study. I didn’t mention that it only works for British students, the French ones do not seem to become more pro-EU after an Erasmus:
    “Whilst ERASMUS enables students to improve their foreign language skills and learn more about other European countries, it does not foster a European self-identity or a sense of European pride. However, the ERASMUS experience does help British students to feel more attached to Europe and to acknowledge they have things in common with continental Europeans”.
    Emmanuel Sigalas 2009, “Does ERASMUS Student Mobility Promote a European Identity?”
    Keep in mind that there is a self-selection bias in Erasmus, so those who do an exchange year are already more pro-European than those who do not so this might explain why the effects are not so large in most countries but they are somewhat significant in the UK where support for the EU is lower.

  7. Aymeric L

    @French Derek

    I’m not denying that all these programmes and initiatives play a role.
    But then, keeping in mind that they have benefitted from contrinuous budget increases for the last 50 years or so, why is turnout in European elections so low today?

    The Erasmus programme was set up in 1987, the Commission wants to raise its budget as from 2014. How much money will we need to complete the socialisation stage in order to move on to the political one?

    Most of my French Erasmus friends rejected the European constitution. Are they a statistical error?

  8. french derek

    Hi Aymeric
    I’m not sure the campaign is a collective experience: certainly not in the way that the Erasmus programme is.
    If we go back to Althusius (OK, early 17th C) he noted that what brought people together was a form of social contract, arising from social “contact”. For example, during the ill-fated attempt by BMW to revive the Longbriidge (UK) car-making plant, they took workers to Munich to work on their production lines there. Those workers returned with a totally changed attitude towards Germans and Germany. Twin-town activities that “involve” real people (ie not just local politicians on a “jolly”) can offer similar.
    Once some form of social contract is established, then societies can move on to politics. Whilst the founders of the pre-EU recognised the need for social contact – and tried to build mechanisms for it to happen (eg Erasmus), later EU leaders have given it no thought. lack of Democracy is one result; disillusionment is the other. I’m not sure how we could remedy this.

  9. Aymeric L.

    @ EC
    No, your remark was not condescending. But have you considered the possibility that Jon may not be having fun like an “intelligent person interested in the EU”, but that he may just be giggling like an average Joe for no reason? 😉

    I fully agree with you that people evolve thanks to personal experiences. Sending 500 million Europeans abroad one year with the Erasmus programme would cost precisely € 1.1 trillion (my own calculation 🙂 ), so it’s going to be hard to finance!

    Look beyond the ballot box itself, an election is actually not about putting a piece of paper in an envelope for some kind of a liar or clown. What matters is the period before the election. The campaign itself is a collective experience able to change people’s mind.

  10. European Citizen

    I had no intention to sound condescending…sorry if it came out like that. I’m still convinced that it’s easier to change the person’s mind if s/he experiences something instead of just reading about it. I remember a study about how effective Erasmus programs were in making the participating students feel more “European”. It concluded that they had the greatest impact on UK students who, after their Erasmus year, felt other EU countries were not so different from the UK.
    Anyway, does anybody know of any studies concerning the impact of nationality and party ideology on voters’ preferences? I can only find such studies about the EP but obviously they are not generalizable.
    I see Jon thinks the discussion is fun…no doubt, Aymeric, the average EU citizen would also think that discussing EU’s democratic deficit is ‘fun’…or am I being condescending again?!? (joke alert!)

  11. Maybe I should have said ‘interesting’! I’m not sure I am representative of what European citizens would judge to be fun 🙂

  12. Aymeric L

    Sorry Jon for polluting your blog.

    @European citizen: I could explain you that, indeed, Belgians don’t have any opportunity anymore to vote for somebody from the other community: all attempts to create a common constituency have been rejected.

    I didn’t know that the people interested in the EU had to be condescending. That’s disappointing, especially considering the quality of their blogs.

  13. @Aymeric – debate away… It’s quite fun to read!

  14. European Citizen

    People in Switzerland, in India, and in the nationalistic Quebec are able to vote en masse for people who don’t speak their language. Why would’nt we?
    I don’t know, ask the Belgians 😀
    As for European and international institutions and voting regardless of nationality…hmm let’s see: choosing the head of the ECB? No, it was made on the basis of a number of compromises and nationality was one of them. Choosing the president of the EP? Nope, they wanted somebody necessarily from Eastern Europe, at least for the first half of the term. IMF? Look at the fuss about whether the president should be European or not. The sad part is that elites are in general less likely to consider nationality as an important criterion (sorry, can’t provide any studies on that) so imagine how the average voter feels.
    I think we (intelligent people interested in the EU) tend to assume the majority of the population is like us. Many of them have never experienced the benefits of being an EU citizen (roughly speaking, never made use of their four freedoms or participated in any EU-related project). Until they do, the EU will remain remote and irrelevant to them. I doubt they would feel more engaged if they read some manifestos. I’d be glad to be proven wrong, though!

  15. Aymeric L

    @ European citizen

    It’s not a chicken-and-egg problem. It’s a question of accepting that innovating is the only solution, not conservatism, as we are just heading for a 2014 election that is going to be an even bigger disaster than the last one, and perhaps the last. How do we justify paying €1,5 Bn/year for an unwanted Parliament?

    What tells you that “only a small part of Europeans are prepared to give more precedence to party ideology/competence over nationality”? Has anybody ever done a research about the hypothesis of an EU presidential election? If yes, I’d say their conclusions are not relevant, because all this debate is surrealistic. It’s like asking precolombian Native Americans if they want to meet Europeans.

    Votes on foreign candidates exist in the EU: in European institutions, European political parties, European NGOs, international companies. Why are their members able to vote for foreigners, whereas citizens wouldn’t?

    People in Switzerland, in India, and in the nationalistic Quebec are able to vote en masse for people who don’t speak their language. Why would’nt we?

  16. European Citizen

    @ Aymeric
    I see you’ve quoted Simon Hix so I’m not going to re-state the arguments about why the EP elections are second-order national elections.
    You forget that only a small part of Europeans are prepared to give more precedence to party ideology/competence over nationality. The problem is especially acute in small countries which have long been ruled by foreigners. With party ideology the problem is simply that UK Labour party is very different from the French socialist party so your average voter won’t know what they are voting for. Yes, I know that they could have EU-wide party manifestos in theory but I’m sure you get my point.
    In any case, I don’t disagree with you about the importance of parties and the deficiencies of consensus decision-making; I simply think it’s a chicken-and-egg problem and active citizenship should come first. Once the majority of the Europeans are ready to accept that a competent politician, regardless of their nationality, could represent their interests well, we can think of introducing a system along the lines of what you suggest.

  17. Aymeric L.

    Congratulations Jon! Here is my point of view on the first question:

    We need an EU that works in a democratic and political way = in a republican way (idea of general interest + rule by the people).

    All European countries have a definition of “Republic”: Bundesrepublik, Commonwealth, République, Rzeczpospolita. The word “Communauté” itself has a connection to the word “Res publica”. We need to come back to it.

    If turnout in EP elections comes under 40% in 2014, which is realistic, the entire European project will definitely lose its democratic triple A.
    To prevent that, we need above all truly European elections in 2014, with two realistic solutions:
    – Commission president candidates nominated by Euro-parties, and acting as true campaign leaders: PES primaries in January 2014.
    – Europe-wide voting intention polls and exit polls for European election (or aggregation of national polls > Simon Hix’ How could TV channels and the press talk about these elections from a European perspective without any information about the predicted results at EU level?

  18. Aymeric L.

    @European Citizen

    Consensualism is not always the best answer either. The decline of voting rates for each European election is even stronger than at national level: 43% in 2009, 40% in France, against 85% in the French presidential election in 2007.

    There is above all an increasing sense that European institutions are out of touch with voters. At EU level, voters think they are being ruled by complete foreigners, even when EU leaders come from their own country.

    The answer is obviously active citizenship, but this means first and foremost: true elections. “Engaging more Europeans in coming together, sharing ideas, exchanging solutions” means nothing if, at the end, citizens are not offered a true vote.

    In 2014, if a British person usually voting Lib-Dem doesn’t believe the ELDR candidate for Commission president will protect his interest, well, he should simple not vote for him and this party.

  19. European Citizen

    Politicisation is not always the best answer. People won’t feel more engaged: look at the declining voting rates at national level. There is an increasing sense that national politicians are out of touch with their voters. At the EU level, this sense is compounded by the fact that voters think they are being ruled by foreigners. You can’t convince a British person that the, say, French president of the EU, even if directly elected and coming from the same party family as the one that British person normally votes for, will protect his interests.
    The answer is active citizenship, engaging more Europeans in coming together, sharing ideas, exchanging solutions etc.

  20. Yes, I think the best idea you can convey is that Europe needs real, party politics if it’s going to engage people. We need to have a sense that Europe’s administration has a political colour and that there’s an opposition – and to get away from the current situation, in which Nigel Farage appears to be the opposition.

  21. Joe Litobarski

    You (along with Conor Slowey and others) have spoken in the past about the need for greater “politicisation” of European politics, with greater distinction being made between conservative, social democrat, liberal, green, etc. policies, parties and groups. I completely agree.

  22. kosmopolit

    It is not about more or less Europe – we need a better EU and a smarter way of doing politics in the 21st century. The current crisis can be a new beginning for positive vision of Europe.

    1. We need better politicians in Brussels, better EU policies, better EU democracy. We, the citizens, deserve a better EU. We need to ask honest questions: What are the issues that need to be solved on the European level – and what are the issues that need to be solved on the national and regional level. What is the role of the EU in the 21st century? But we also need to implement change and not only talk about it.

    2. A smarter way of doing EU politics. We need to address the legitimacy gap of the EU. Real transparency and real democracy are European values. Here, technology can help us to but will not be enough. We need to use the EU to develop smart economy and a dynamic single market. We also need to think how to develop a sense of EU identity which does not replace but enrich regional and national identities. Last but not least. we need a better debate about the EU, a smarter frame how we discuss the EU….

    that was a lot of bla bla… maybe it is better to focus on one thing only which is often the better option for 5 minute presentations (more “TED style”). Don’t try to cover too many things (democracy & economics & euro & techonology etc) but just think of one point that people should remember you for. Maybe a new frame for EU debates (Lakoff etc.) Explain Lakoff’s key points and apply it to EU politics. Might help to stand out at the event as everyone else will probably talk about democracy and eurozone issues?

  23. french derek

    As you say, Jon, you have rehearsed many of the appropriate themes. So

    1 We, citizens of the EU demand a more democratic EU: we could start with having an elected Commission President (ie not one appointed by the Council of Ministers). There are ways in which this process could be achieved within current treaties. Discuss. (NB why the need for two “Presidents, neither of which has much power – and certainly no budget?)
    2 The (democratically elected) President should have the power to select their own nominees as Commissioners from a pre-election list (submitted with their own election manifesto). Discuss.
    3 EP elections and Commission president elections should be on different time-scales. The EP could/should then exercise a counter-balance to the Commission.

    I would hope that, by such means, we might move towards a more democratic EU.

  24. European Citizen

    1. “Us” versus “them”. The kind of Europe I want is one where people realize that “EU” is not some remote island of unelected bureaucrats but it’s “us”, each and every one of its citizens. We, the people who travel and talk relatively cheaply abroad, (thanks to the liberalizing efforts of EU institutions). We, the people who go to work or study in another country, making use of our freedom of movement…we are Europe.
    2. Europe as the better alternative to the nation-state. I want the EU to be bold, standing up for human rights at home and abroad instead of succumbing to populism in a misguided effort to be seen as more legitimate.
    3. Sometimes I feel we don’t need to re-define what the EU stands for; in fact we need to be reminded of its original purpose: peace. Yes, us, the new generation which never witnessed the horrors of the World Wars. I think we often forget what progress we’ve made in the past 60 years. We should be proud of it.

  25. What kind of jumps to my eyes is that the past 2-3 years have shown that the speed of European democratic and administrative decision-making isn’t designed to deal
    a) with the speed needed to deal with economic and social crisis situations, and
    b) with the speed needed to react to new media communication and similar technological developments.

    For me, a renewal of the EU thus involves speeding up pro-active communication and speeding up democratic (!) decision-making in such a way that parliamentary and public participation are not ignored but included in the problem-solving in Europe, ideally making use of new technologies not 5-10 years after they’ve become used by the masses but now.

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