The White Paper on the Future of the Union prompted many new formats that the European institutions as well as national politicians have been testing in the past years, to bring the discussion on the future of the European Union closer its citizens. In this view, Commissioners like Violeta Bulc, have been undertaking a number of Citizens Dialogues, the French President Emmanuel Macron announced a similar setting and we are eagerly awaiting the annual State of the European Union address by the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who will this week present his own vision for Europe.
Last week, Slovenia hosted the first Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, who held a dialogue with citizens at the national television. The debate was broadcast live during prime time on TV, as well as radio and social media of the European Commission’s representation in Slovenia. A day later, discussions about the European Union took place in the frame of the Bled Strategic Forum. However, when there is talk in Slovenia about the future of the European Union, more often than not, we face a very limited debate with short-term visions presented by citizens as well as those who represent our country in Brussels and take decisions on its behalf. Long-term scenarios are being debated in Brussels, while Slovenia is thinking about more cohesion funds and how to deal with our neighbours in the next few years. This was again demonstrated last week in the studio of the Slovenian national broadcaster, as well as in the big hall in Bled.
Pred točno 10 leti sem v Bordeauxu za svoje Erasmus prijatelje kupila torto. Imeli smo črno-belo natisnjeno zastavico EU, ki jo je nekdo že v kampusu zrezal in prilepil tako, da so bile zvezdice na obeh straneh. V tipičnem francoskem barčku smo naprosili plastične krožnike in zobotrebec, da je zastavica lahko ponosno krasila torto. In tako smo nazdravili na Evropo. Takrat nisem imela pojma, kako pomembna bo postala Evropska unija v mojem življenju in življenju nekaterih mojih odštekanih Erasmus in ostalih prijateljev. Ampak glede Evrope je stvar takšna, da se ti enostavno zgodi. Evrope ne poznaš, dokler je ne srečaš. In enkrat, ko jo spoznaš, ti obrne življenje na glavo.
What is The Ljubljana Initiative? What is written in this 70 pages document, produced by some prominent Slovenian politicians and political analysts, which should pompously mark the new era in European integration and give an incentive to Slovenes and Europeans to become more European?
The Ljubljana Initiative might have given Slovenes a sense of belonging to the European family and a sense of shared responsibility for the European project. However, this part of the President of the Republic’s political campaign is (unfortunately) very far from a potential new Treaty on the Constitution for the European Union.
Everything was done by the book. A presentation was made, press releases published, statements delivered and a number of articles were published in many Slovenian media outlets. The Ljubljana Initiative is described as many things: a part of a political campaign, a document that would become a new Constitution for Europe, something that materialized during a walk of a small number of Slovene intellectuals, an initiative supported by the President of the Republic himself. In the midst of numerous political analyses of the Ljubljana Initiative, all of which mainly looked at its impact on internal policies of Slovenia, EU360 prepared our own opinion from the viewpoint of Europe.
Last weekend an article on the website of the Slovenian daily business newspaper Finance got my attention. The article summarised a public opinion poll made by Lord Ashcroft Polls about the feeling of Europeans about the UK and Brexit. Besides checking the feeling about Brexit (60% of the interviewed said they want the UK to remain in the EU, while only 10% would like to see the country out), the poll explored which are the EU’s favourite countries and what Europeans most like and dislike of the EU. The results for Slovenia are not a surprise and they show that Slovenians don’t know how the EU works. They also point out that they suffer from a problem common to other Europeans – we want only the benefits the EU brings, while we want the obligations to be carried by others.
It was 26 years ago that heads of French and German state stood side by side in Strasbourg. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl delivered the short speeches of optimism. This week, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her French counterpart President François Hollande stood side by side again in front of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). In spite of them coming from different spectra of political field, the leaders of these two countries that are considered a “locomotive” of European integration, felt compelled to call on all Europeans to cooperate more. An observer might ask here whether European integrations are really in such serious trouble that they need the push from the side of the funding members. Is the vision of the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, simply not enough to move things into the European direction at the time when each Member State is pulling the strings in its own way? And finally, was the call of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in favour of European solidarity overshadowed by their statements in immigration and refugee crisis that the media so happily took up?
Even though the hot topic of these days, especially in Slovenia where we are not used to those that look different form our common Slovenian, is the refugee crisis (which Grega described last week), I decided to serve you a bit of a lighter topic this week from the side of EU360. A topic coloured with languages as tomorrow is the European day of languages which marks our multilingualism and linguistic richness. While it is general knowledge that the EU has 24 official languages and a number of working languages, I am going to give you a peek into what happens in Brussels, when interpreters switch off their mikes.
Do you know who won the Olympics in London in terms of the medal count? If you think it was the United States then think again. In fact, the winner by medal count at the last Olympics in London (as well as earlier) was the European Union! Invincible athletes of the Member States of the European Union jointly achieved 305 medals (92 gold, 104 silver and 109 bronze), while their American counterparts collected a total of 104 medals (46 gold, 29 silver and 29 bronze) (more information here and here). Even when translated into number of medals per capita, Europe remains in the lead with one medal for each 1.7 million citizens, where the Americans won one medal for every 3 million citizens.
So, you know that the European Union is an Olympic superpower. Now read what makes Europeans so very successful in sports and in what ways we work together to create a healthier and more sporty continent.
Recently, top EU leaders announced the establishment of the Energy Union. This should be the creation of an integrated energy policy for the entire European Union, which is currently lost somewhere between environmental policy, competition, industry and climate change. Before us is a period when a number of important decisions will be taken in the field of energy. The Informal Energy Council scheduled for next week will also see Ministers of the Member States discuss this new initiative. Therefore, I suggest to look at some key information and basic concepts to shed some light on the matter.
It is usually thought of the European Union capital city as a faceless conglomeration somewhere between France and the Netherlands, where heaven exists for bureaucrats that write incomprehensible legal and technical texts, and communicate with citizens in a similar style. Brussels is rarely considered for what it really is; probably a very unique place not only in Europe but in the world and very much comparable to Washington DC. Brussels is much more than just a beehive of officials. It is the center for political events in Europe and one of the most important places for lobbyists from different Member States. Brussels is certainly not impersonal or empty. Brussels are people, students, trainees, lobbyists, politicians, NGO workers and officials.
On Monday, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, surprised by a statement that the European Union should respond to the growing aggressiveness of Russia by uniting the military capabilities of its Member States based on the model of NATO. According to Juncker, a man dedicated to further integration of European countries, the EU can at this time no longer remain credible if we are not willing to make sure that we can protect our values by an armed force. Reactions of Member States were varied. But, can we imagine that one day there may be a future in which the European Union will be defended by soldiers with blue and gold flags on their uniforms? Perhaps. At the moment, when Putin’s Russia is increasingly flexing its muscles, and the Islamist regime of Daesh is becoming increasingly widespread in the Middle East, it could be a right time for EU Member States to move forward and unite their troops under one roof.
One question remains, however. Would an EU army, modeled on NATO be the best solution?