Searching for the big vision in Europe
Leaders need to articulate a new narrative that goes beyond immediate crises of migration, terrorism, the euro, or Brexit
There is a suggestion in monthly economic data from across Europe that the EU is shaking off its Brexit blues. With GDP growth across the 19-member Eurozone, a return to growth in France with unemployment down under 10 per cent, and a solid expansion in manufacturing in Germany, preparations for next month’s Bratislava summit are taking on a more upbeat note.
At a mini-summit on the Mediterranean island of Ventotene, near Naples on Monday, the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy were putting their best feet forward in a badly needed rebranding exercise for the EU – or as Suddeutsche Zeitung, put it, “over the next month, Europe will embark on a quest for meaning”. Chancellor Merkel spoke of the mission of the leaders “to give people a sense of a secure and vibrant Europe”.
Host Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told journalists that “We respect the choice of the British people but we want to write an important page for the future. And for that reason, internal security, external security, the battle for a common defence, more collaboration between intelligence services, greater integration between national defence industries, a project for a European security community ... all these are absolute priorities ...”
Not to mention a new stimulus for growth and jobs, and special programmes for Europe’s unemployed youth. But all are familiar themes, echoes of previous rebranding exercises, and while Renzi’s enthusiasm is commendable, if “all” are “absolute priorities”, then none are.
Worthy policy initiatives are to be welcomed, if indeed they are more than pious words. The danger over the next two years is that the EU will become mired in introspection, preoccupied by the minutiae and undoubtedly bitter rows that will accompany the Brexit negotiations, and unable to shake the pessimism and scepticism among voters that the Brexit debate has fed. The EU’s leaders need above all to articulate a new big-picture, meta-narrative, a new “meaning” or “vision thing” that goes beyond the immediate crises of migration, terrorism, the euro, or Brexit.