It was the first “State of the Union” that I followed at the European level, and I was not even aware that there was such an annual event. From my current base in Brussels I caught Commission President Barroso’s speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on brief broadcasts on BBC World and Euronews. Not exactly the pomp and serenade surrounding the US President’s annual State of the Union address that I used to watch while in New York. That takes place in late January, starts at 9 pm EST if I remember correctly, and is broadcast live in its entirety to all American homes on all major media. Some way to go still for Europe, even in terms of symbolism, I thought.
I am not familiar with the content of the previous two such speeches that Mr. Barroso gave, in 2010 and 2011 respectively. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard in this one. Some real thinking and proposals for the future of Europe – how the EU can meet its internal challenges and the challenges of globalization, which are of course interconnected. Among the points that I noticed:
- A bold reassertion of the centrality of the European Social Model, which is not dead, although it needs modernization;
- A call for reform addressed to those countries in debt and low productivity, but also those who are strong and need to see the whole picture and show solidarity;
- An emphasis on sustainable growth for the EU with innovation and job creation, especially for young people;
- A move to closer banking and fiscal union, accompanied by the necessary institutional steps;
- And a call for real political union through the establishment of a “Federation of nation states”, although not a unitary state.
I hope that this is not just rhetoric but a commitment to acting on all points raised. Thankfully there was quite a bit of specificity in terms of concrete measures and a timeline for their introduction.
I very much liked the elevation of the mid-2014 European Parliament elections to a milestone of European democratic participation. During the period from now to that date we should all help create the common European space, vision and soul, the sense of “Europeanness” that the EU still rather misses. Because more than another treaty and new regulations, what the EU needs is to become a joint venture of real citizens, out in the streets and in the coffee shops, in universities and work places, in the news and in the arts; a common endeavour rather than an elitist experiment. There is still a lot of good will among citizens, as the triumph of pro-European parties in the Dutch elections held on the same day showed. And institutional adjustments can be made within existing frameworks without hampering progress, as the ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court on the ESM rescue fund, also issued on the same day, indicated.
I would like to close on a personal note. My enthusiasm about Europe does not contradict or replace my commitment to the United Nations and the World. For me these identities, along with those of being Greek and coming from Sparta, are fully compatible and happily co-existing in my self. A strong Europe with a central social identity, based on broad popular participation, with a thriving and sustainable economy and a clear voice can contribute much more to the world than a problematic, crisis-ridden, cacophonous and introvert group of small and medium states quarreling with each other.
Ixelles, 13 September 2012