Opinion: Would the EU please wake up, please?

But does anyone else? Brussels, 3 July 2010, during the ceremony marking the start of Belgium's presidency of the EU.
But does anyone else? Brussels, 3 July 2010, during the ceremony marking the start of Belgium's presidency of the EU.
27 August 2010 – La Stampa (Turin)

The EU is plunging in the polls, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. The ranks of the disillusioned are swelling not with Eurosceptics, but with Europhile integrationists. Meanwhile, the Commission marks time and Van Rompuy gone AWOL.

When Europe asks whether she’s still the fairest in the realm, only 49 per cent say “yes”. The latest Eurobarometer poll published by the Commission shows that less than half the Community believe being part of the EU is “a good thing” for their country. Euro-enthusiasts haven’t dipped below the 50 per cent mark since 2004, and in 2008 they came in at 58 per cent. This is the worst showing since the big eastward enlargement to form a 27-member club. The era of absolute majority is temporarily on hold.

Is this a defeat for the Union? Yes, definitely. A defeat for Europe? Absolutely not. A victory for Eurosceptics? Don’t kid yourself. The same opinion poll reflects a growing desire to pool and consolidate Europe’s political energies. More and more people feel the EU should be the one to solve the problems of the recession. As a matter of fact, three quarters of Europe is calling for more policy coordination.

Cure as clear as the illness

And many would like to know what Europe can really do for them – because they are actually expecting it to do it. That’s the point. Fewer people believe Europe is “a good thing” not because they’re against integration per se, but because they feel betrayed by the 27 and the way they’re handling it. They are demanding more. They feel they’ve been abandoned for sordid power games between Brussels and the member states. They want to know and participate.

The cure is as clear as the illness. Europe has got to stop giving the impression that it’s all just a game of musical chairs, as in EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton’s reshuffling match with the 27 to form a continental diplomatic service, which is low on content and high on reorganisation hype.

A dearth of dialogue

It’s a communication problem that boils down to how Europe comes across to her citizenry and how her institutions wage their fratricidal wars. It’s a problem of national approach, because no-one really wants to team up all the way.

The handling of the French Roma issue is a case in point. Paris started chasing them off because Sarkozy’s approval ratings were plummeting, then he called a six-nation immigration summit – without inviting the Commission or Council. The incensed EU executive promptly denounced the dearth of dialogue, whereupon it finally got an invite to the upcoming summit on the Seine. The Commission’s comment: “We have a strong suspicion the Roma question is not on the agenda for the summit desired by the French.”

Close ranks and face the music

The Roma question is a serious issue. For one thing, because they ought to be protected and reassured. For another, because they’re a vector of small-time crime. But also because they’re people like you and me, with the same rights and obligations.

Europe needs to close ranks and face the music. She needs to respond to those calling for a more concrete Union, for more security, for more equality and respect for human rights regardless of race, creed or ethnicity. Europe needs to react. If she doesn’t, she will take another dive in the opinion polls, forsaken by those who love her, not by the shortsighted nationalists who don’t and never did.

Translated by Eric Rosencrantz

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