The more I reflect on the speeches yesterday, the more disappointed I become. First of all: enlargement. De Villepin, Moisi and many others seemed to be obsessed by the borders of Europe, and stated so much how important the borders are for many European citizens. But is this actually true? Are we not still stuck in a phase when – with Europe in ‘crisis’ – the easiest thing to blame is enlargement for the citizens’ unease?
It all seems nice and simple for politicians, summed up in what De Villepin said: “Enlargement was not sufficiently prepared, neither politically nor economically.” Sorry, that’s just not good enough. Unease most probably stems far more from poor economic growth, unemployment, and fears of globalisation. Coping with that is complex, and blaming enlargement is easy. So despite the visionary titles of the sessions of this conference, we are left with the same old lines and old hypocrisy from the politicians.
The contradiction of the day comes from Mark Leonard, author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. He stated clearly that the European Union should not aim to sign any new treaty or revive the Constitution for 5 years, stating that the citizens cannot be brought on board any grand constitutionalising project. His approach is that Europe must do as much as it can within the present treaties, and Europe’s grand project must be its ‘transformative power’ over the rest of the world. Seems to me that the contradiction here is huge… Europe’s leaders have been singularly incapable of showing leadership within the institutions as they are presently, hence it strikes me that institutional reform is as necessary as ever. Second, how are the people going to be behind a global project for the EU when politicians are presently always telling them that even enlargement is costing too much? OK, Leonard would say that pushing ahead with the Constitution when the French and Dutch have rejected it would be wrong, but it must surely be the lesser of the two evils?
Last but not least, a personal comment on yesterday evening. Somehow the tickets were mixed up for the grand Mozart Concert at the Gro√?es Festspielhaus with Cecilia Bartoli, and the Vienna Philharmonic with conductor Riccardo Muti – more on the concert here. Anyway, somehow I ended up with seats in the second row, sat two seats along from Commissioner Jan Figel, and just behind Barroso! I even received an icy stare from Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, implying ‘who are you sat here!?’ The concert was brilliant, even if I was at times very aware of my stomach rumbling, and the impact of where I was sitting. So near and yet so far – Barroso was a metre away, but the distance enormous.