The morning started with a quick and bland introduction from Wolfgang Sch√?ssel, followed by some words from Margot Wallstr√∂m. Nothing much of note, except the video Wallstr√∂m wanted to show did not work correctly. She then left the conference – is that as much as we are going to hear from the Commissioner responsible for information? Hope not…
De Villepin came next (his speech should be available soon at the Conference Website). You can get live streaming too, if you really want it – here. The press loved it that De Villepin was present – plenty of flashing cameras and TV. De Villepin looks like a cat that ate the cream – suntan, smartly cut hair, sharp suit – and his speech was broadly similar. He spoke a lot of music, or Mozart, of the problems Europe has faced since Auschwitz. He went on optimistically to say that the French had not voted against Europe, but against the Constitution. He however gave no concrete plans whatsoever about what should be done to solve these problems. With its many references to history and philosophy, his speech was without doubt excellent oratory, but what of use did he actually say?
This was followed by a somewhat bizarre panel with Jan Peter Balkenende, Josep Borrell, David Cesarani, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Paul Michael L√?tzeler and Andrew Moravcsik. Balkenede went on about Europe needing solidarity until the moderator pointed out the Netherlands Government’s position in the budgetary negotiations. Ferrero Waldner said nothing of any interest, and seemed incapable of answering questions. Borrel was his usual passionate self, urging the other panellists to think more widely and aim to be optimisitic. Cesarini and L√?tzeler, supposedly there for some intellectual input, were both quite bizarre. Discussions focussed on the 1932 book “The Sleepwalker” by Hermann Broch – is that really relevant?
Moravcsik was the best, not because of the views that he represents, but because he is coherent and clear, and aims to make ideas as simple to grasp as possible. His emphasis on the need to show what practical progress Europe has made, and how this is distinct in people’s minds from the process to draft the European Constitution at least was clear and well argued – although wrong in my opinion.
The organisation of the conference is quite a nightmare… It is impossible to get the copies of scripted speeches beforehand, which makes our job as the people writing the minutes very much harder. The staff at the Press Centre just sort of shrug their shoulders and give the impression that it’s not their problem…
There’s also a clear case here of ‘all participants are equal, but some are more equal than others’ – the special inner circle of participants had special lunches introduced by certain speakers. The rest – including all the 50 or so young people here – were excluded from these lunches. Yet so much of the debate has been how to motivate a young generation… And the youngest speaker this morning was over 40!
And one final gripe: smoking. There are people smoking all over this conference centre… While others are eating, at the tables outside the conference room. It’s really vile. When will the Austrians learn from the Scandinavian example? I hope soon.
Anyway, not much of particular interest to report so far… Let’s hope it gets better!
Well, you can at least hope that people would have had pleasant ways to say nothing! So many speeches were poorly delivered, and clearly the majority of the speakers were not really thinking or analysing what they were saying.
I didn’t expect anything at the conference to change the world, but I think some of the speakers taking the thing seriously should not be too much to ask?
Jon! Thanks for this insight. I’ve heard from some friends that the event lacked the spirit, which is so decisive for such events. Hm, but what can you really expect if you sit together politicians (with some exceptions of course) that cannot agree on most basic things…
It is sadly very much as expected… But I think it’s important at least to give a slightly different perspective on what’s going on than would be gained the the mainstream media that only wanted to take photos of de Villepin!
Jon: fascinated to read your reports. Keep up the good work. But honestly, is it anything other than what you would have expected from previous experience with such events? That is not to say that there are never conferences or workshops or seminars which offer intelligent commentary and suggestions for future development, but surely not in that type of forum. Hopefully the networking will make up for the poverty of the plenary sessions.