Why Are We Here?

The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter today puts its finger on a sore spot: Why have an EU Summit right now at all?

The whole idea of inserting a third summit each year was part of the Lisbon strategy, intended at boosting EU competivity, a (traditionally) unsigned editorial notes. However, it has turned out that the EU manages to boost its capacity for increased competition power perfectly well without the politicians telling people how to do it, thank you very much, and the spring summit is increasingly becoming a bit of a yawn generator. Even Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, concedes on his blog that “this meeting with the European Council will possibly not go down in history as one of the very biggest”.

However, Dagens Nyheter fumes (to the general amusement of my Swedish colleagues here at the EU Summit press room, who have spent the morning speculating who actually wrote the vitriolic editorial in question – the writer was more or less officially identified as Barbro Hedvall), the EU cannot back down from holding spring summits now, because that would be seen as a loss of prestige and – more importantly – a source of speculation about why the leaders wouldn’t want to meet each other, especially who didn’t want to meet who.

I’m not so sure I agree with the criticism. After all, it is never a bad idea that people – especially at high levels – get together and talk. Even if they currently may have little to talk about, there might come other times when having an institutionalised forum may be crucal, instead of wasting precious energy on procedure and formalities. After all, that is what the EU is all about – defusing possible points of conflict before they flare up.

And therein lies a PR problem, because it is always difficult to sell to the general public that we have avoided conflicts to the point where they never happened. “What conflicts?” we EU citizens ask, oblivious to the long and bloody history of our part of the world, where war between the people groups now represented at the negotiation table was the norm, not the exception.

I do realise that the bloodless summits require lots of travelling, security arrangements, and so on. But I’ll take that over war every time.

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2 Responses to “Why Are We Here?”

  1. derekt Says:

    Jonathan
    I’m pleased you made the point about the EU as a means of avoiding war. The PR problem you note is made worse by the fact that most people in the EU (the older members especially) have no experience of “total war”. Not only that, I doubt they can imagine it.
    What I mean by “total war” is where every resource – material, capital and human is dedicated to the war effort. As a primary school child in the UK during WW2 I was expected to help cultivate the school allotment. At home, the garden was an allotment, the garage was where we kept hens and rabbits (our only source of protein). Yet Britain was not occupied. It was worse in, say, France.
    The PR problem is how can we explain the continuing need to talk about issues within Europe against a rising tide of nationalist fervour (which led to so many wars beforein Europe).
    OK, rant over. I’ll keep trying to educate the grandchildren!

  2. jonathan Says:

    derekt, when the grandchildren are old enough, show them “Blood Diamond” and tell them that that kind of life was not too far from what children could expect in our own part of the world as late as when you grew up (or in the Balkans only 15 years ago). And much more so only one or two hundred years ago.

    Promise me you’ll do it. And share your own experiences. You cannot explain enough how important it is to avoid war, or what it will do to us if we don’t.

    To quote one of my favourite authors, Vilhelm Moberg: “If mankind does not abolish war, then war will abolish mankind”.


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