The other day I was talking to my husband over dinner and at some point I found myself saying: ‘ I think that one could say that Viviane Reding is a star!’. He nearly choked. He looked at me and said: ‘There are no stars in the Commission, Virginia; it’s the nature of their job….’
Let me try at least to explain why I said what I did, to myself as well actually… Viviane Reding a star? What had I been drinking?
I had just watched a 7 min video of the debate on the future of Europe, that had taken place in Dublin in mid-January. The debate was meant to officially open the European Year of the Citizen.
Here is the video:
As you can see, after the Irish Taoiseach and Barroso had made some remarks and left (I assume so, as they disappear in the second part of the debate), there comes Commissioner Reding… she is practically alone on stage – although at one point you see her with an MEP, in some sort of explosion of red, and with the Irish Minister for Europe. She moves back and forth as if
she were a stand up comedian (not as funny though, but that is beside the point). The year of the Citizen is her ‘baby’ and she wants to make the most of it. She talks with emotion, recounting her personal experience as a Luxembourger being squeezed by two huge neighbours and as a woman fighting for gender equality. I mean, you are not blown away by her performance but
at least there is a performance.
I am told she is loved by some (especially in the European Parliament) and hated by others who think she is an arch-federalist and mainly talks about popular – bordering populist- issues, to increase her own popularity and move onto greater things. But I say: so what? And could it be that she actually believes in what she is saying? And why is trying to be popular such a taboo in this city? I can hear it already: ‘Oh dear, people actually understand and care about some of the issues we are dealing with….we must be doing something wrong!’
There is no easy answer though: as my dinner conversation progressed, some sort of dilemma emerged.
CASE A: If the EU decides to tackle so-called ‘popular’ issues such as gender quotas or bankers bonuses, often a wave of criticism by eurosceptics follows who think that Brussels should do less, not more and that these issues should be dealt with at national level. They say, with some reason, that just because something is desirable (gender quotas), it doesn’t follow that this should be done at the EU level.
CASE B (in full contradiction with case A, hence the dilemma!): In a situation such as the one we are in now, where the EU is as misunderstood as it is unpopular and where ignorance about Europe is fast turning into mistrust, dislike or even hatred, maybe it is not such a bad idea to deal with ‘popular issue’ – even if there is no compelling policy need to tackle the issue through the EU.
Just as a reminder, here are the three main meanings of the word ‘popular’:
1. regarded with great favour, approval, or affection especially by the general public
2. carried on by or for the people (or citizens) at large
3. representing or appealing to or adapted for the benefit of the people at large
Tackling issues that are not strictly on the European agenda might make people feel more passionate about Europe; hence, they should probably be part of what the EU does, if it cares about maintaining popular engagement and support. So, on top of the issues mentioned above, why not have, for example, a European equivalent of the Oscars – as European films are also funded by the EU- with one prize for the best non-European movie? And how about….-pause for effect – a true European football team? Not to substitute the national ones of course (then the EU would really be over!). Although, having said that….isn’t Arsenal, just to take one, mostly composed of non English players? Think for a minute at the reaction if one said: ‘Sorry Arsenal fans, but from now on your team will represent….Europe!’ Just kidding. I am simply opening the debate, as Reding asked us to do, right?
In case you were interested in more details, not on the EU football team but on the Future of Europe debate here is a nice animated video (I do have some doubts about the timing of the whole initiative and about the voice in this video but still..):
So, as often happens, the EU might be damned if they do but also damned if they don’t. Is it better to be criticised for being unpopular or to be criticised for being popular? Tough choice really. Maybe Theodore Roosevelt can help make that choice: ‘It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed’.