Monday

25th Mar 2019

Opinion

Good evening, Brussels. May we have your votes please?

"Good evening, Brussels. May we have your votes please…?" Who would have thought that the European Union would last as long as the Eurovision Song Contest?

You may laugh, but a comparison is not as ridiculous as it may first appear. The first Grand Prix de l'Eurovision was held in 1956 and of course the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957. Both emerged out of the ruins of war. Both have the ultimate goal of peace and understanding. Both have embraced the so-called "new Europe" and passed the test of time. Well, kind of.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

If only as many people would turn up at the ballot box in the European elections as pick up the telephone on Eurovision night to vote for their favourite song. If we can push aside our patriotic leanings for one night of camp pop, it begs the question why can't we co-operate on other matters?

It is clear the annual celebration of everything that is weird and wonderful about Europe is enjoying a massive success across the continent. Sadly, the same cannot be said for our political and economic union. Our leaders have lost their direction. As a result, the European Union is failing dramatically to get its message across because nobody's really sure what the message is any more. The EU is dangerously losing its purpose. It's left its citizens, the electorate, bemused and hostile. It certainly doesn't deserve douze points.

EU: nul points

The anniversary this week should be a cause to celebrate for every European, but who cares about it or even realises? There are far more interesting 50th birthdays this year anyway: Sputnik, the first Soviet satellite, for example, or the childrens' car racing toy, Scalectrix, to name just two.

The EU has the world's third largest population after China and India, but how many of Europe's citizens would notice if the EU simply evaporated? How many recognise what the Union has done for the rights of the worker, the consumer, or traveller?

We have become so disconnected from the idea of union, mainly because most of us fail to understand what it is, what it actually means and represents. For that we can perhaps be forgiven though. Even our leaders appear to be lost in some kind of European quagmire.

If Brussels had an overriding message that it could spread to its people, then maybe everyone would know what the past fifty years have all been about. More importantly, we'd have an idea about the next fifty. Instead, Brussels does not. It is ineffective at communicating to its citizens. We, the people, have to rely on our national governments to convey the message and who knows how distorted that becomes?

It works two ways though. How do we, the electorate, give feedback to Brussels? We are represented by the European Parliament, but most of us don't even bother to vote and many of us have no idea what MEPs do all day.

That is not meant to be disparaging, but we cannot escape the fact that however worthy and significant the work of the Parliament may be, the message is not getting out there and it's nobody's fault but their own. Like Brussels, the communication from Strasbourg is ineffective.

We have to face it. European politics is dull. In the words of one MEP recently "we really are a boring lot and need to sex it up a bit. Our debates would make even your grandmother cry."

There is no doubt Europe has a communication problem and without a pan-European media, it's hard to resolve this. Yet the problem is much more complicated. Europe is currently a continent in search of a purpose and without that, it clearly has no message to communicate.

It appears we're all lost and nobody's sure where we're heading. We must save ourselves, but first we have to know what it is we're saving.

Let's resolve the midlife crisis and grow old gracefully

Europe has no choice but to reinvent itself. There are high hopes for the Berlin declaration this weekend and there is cause to be optimistic. The EU is bigger than ever and has some significant achievements under its belt, but as is typical of a midlife crisis, it's also insecure and uncertain. It simply needs fresh direction, a leader with a vision; some guidance.

Europe must explain that it does have continued relevance. It must convince us of it's necessity, that without it, as individual states, we just wouldn't survive in this globalised world. Today's politicians need to put forward a new raison d'etre for Europe - for a generation of Europeans who have never experienced war first-hand.

There is, of course, still deadlock over the Constitution. The EU has been in a state of shock ever since the rejection of France and the Netherlands. It plunged the Union into an existential crisis from which it has not yet recovered, but Europe must listen to its citizens. Let's wipe the slate clean and not pin all of our hopes on the beleaguered text. Now is the time to move on. Now is the time to win us over.

The coming years are bound to present us with a fundamental clash between those states which want more integration and those that want less. We need to be ready for this. The only way forward, the only way to protect the Union is going to be a radically more flexible structure.

Instead of fireworks and birthday cake, the EU needs to take note of its current health and create a framework which is capable of adapting to the 21st Century, a framework which is acceptable to its people. Let's hope the Berlin declaration reflects that.

If the Eurovision Song Contest can alter its format to incorporate new entries, if the Eurovision Song Contest can make the competition run more smoothly, if the Eurovision Song Contest can continue to appeal to both young and old, then so can the European Union. After all, it's the same audience.

In the words of the European Union's founding father, Jean Monnet:

People only accept change when they are forced with necessity, and only recognise necessity when a crisis is upon them.

If ever the EU had a crisis, it's now.

The author is BBC Television News Correspondent in London

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

My plan for defending rule of law in EU

EPP leader and prospective next EU Commission president Manfred Weber spells out his plan for dealing with recalcitrant EU member states - ahead of Wednesday's EPP meeting on the vexed issue of Hungary's Viktor Orban and Fidesz.

EU must get real on Russia

The EU must call the Ukraine conflict by its true name - Russia's illegal war on its peaceful neighbour - and take commensurate action to protect peace in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us