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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Van Rompuy: ‘the EU should again be seen as a symbol of hope’. My question is: ‘how can you achieve that, Mr. Van Rompuy, as the leaders of the European Union seem to mess up all the time?!’

Today, 9 December 2012, the political leaders of the European Union Herman van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Martin Schulz presented themselves in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Tomorrow they will receive the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of the European Union.

The Nobel Peace Prize is without a doubt the most controversial of the Nobel Prizes. Its presentation has almost always been accompanied by widespread discussions and sometimes even ridiculization. On top of that, you could state without exaggeration that it has been handed out to the wrong people on a number of occasions.

Some of the winners have been representatives of merciless regimes with masses of blood on their hands. Others received a Peace Prize, in spite of their ‘divide and conquer’- policy in past wars. Yet others received the prize without really achieving something remarkable.

This is the reason that the Nobel Peace Prize is more considered to be a incentive prize than a prize for real achievements, like the other Nobel Prizes. It is also not a true Nobel Prize, as it is handed out by Norway and not by the Nobel committee in Sweden.

This year the Nobel Peace Prize has been won by the European Union, precisely at the time that it is arguably going through the toughest period of its existence. The division and differences between the European countries are bigger than ever. On top of that, there is also much misunderstanding and miscommunication between the government leaders and the leadership of the European Union itself: the three musqueteers Barroso, Van Rompuy and Schulz.

How could it be that this prize has been won by the 27 frogs in the wheel-barrow that we lovingly call the European Union?!

Maybe that is exactly the point of the Nobel Peace Prize committee: ‘you have created something beautiful, don’t break it up on some stupid controversies’. You can compare it with parents that say to their quarreling teenage daughter and her boy-friend: ‘you are such a beautiful pair. Please stick together’.

This was for me the reason to be flattered and outright happy about the election anyway. Everybody that looks at the European Union as a bunch of fighting adolescents that don’t want to share their money when drinking in a pub, should look at the historical context of the EU.

The European Union has made an end to centuries of bloody wars in Europe and has brought the archenemies Germany, Great Britain and France under one, sometimes leaking, roof.

It has accomodated the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, it bound East- and West-Germany together again after 40-odd years of deadly hostilities and it brought a kind of peace and quiet in former Yugoslavia.

Summarized, it brought peace and prosperity in the South, the North, the East and the West of Europe. This is a massive achievement and therefore the EU deserves the prize enormously.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Maybe this amount of work triggered EU-president Herman van Rompuy in his speech this afternoon, when he stated that the EU should be a symbol of hope again:

(OSLO) - Europe will emerge strengthened from its current crisis to again symbolise hope, European Union president Herman Van Rompuy said Sunday in Oslo where the bloc's leaders will collect this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

"The EU is going through a difficult period," Van Rompuy said. "I'm sure we will succeed. We will come out of uncertainty and recession stronger than before."

"We want Europe to become again a symbol of hope," he added at a press conference held on the eve of Monday's official Nobel peace awards ceremony.

[…] the award comes on the heels of yet another tough year for the 27-nation bloc, fighting to save the single currency after three years of a crisis that has also sapped political morale.

The chairman of the Nobel Committee, ardently pro-European Thorbjoern Jagland, stressed however that the EU had played a vital role over six decades in turning a continent at war to a continent at peace.

There were "a lot of disputes and even dramas" in those years, said Jagland. But "the disputes and dramas have never led to war. In the contrary they led to compromises."

Half a dozen EU leaders, including Britain's premier David Cameron, will snub Monday's event, held even as the union prepares to enlarge by embracing Croatia as its 28th member next year.

On hand in Oslo will be the leaders of the "big two" powers France and Germany, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel.

As they pick up the Nobel medal, diploma, and near one-million-euro prize, there is increasing weariness with the EU which has led to a rise of eurosceptic and nationalist parties.

In my opinion, Herman van Rompuy is not the strong, colourful leader that an institute like the European Union seems to deserve, when you look at it superficially. He has – to state it more precisely – the charisma of a mannequin in a men’s fashion store, never distracting from the fashion it carries.

However, this lack of charisma is perhaps Van Rompuy’s strenght. He can state things that would be considered offensive from stronger leaders. He can make proposals that other people in Europe can’t without making enemies. And even if one of his proposals is taunted away towards the garbage can by a majority, he is not the person to lay down his portfolio. Instead, he works twice as hard on the next proposal… and the next… and the next….

People that doubt the success factor of this strategy, must remember that even the hardest diamond is worn out by the soft vinyl records it plays on a turntable. This soft approach by Van Rompuy et al. might be much better for the EU than the tough and decisive approach of the strong leader. Leaders have come and gone, but the EU has always moved forward during its history.

The European Union and its predecessors have rarely made very big steps  in their past: the biggest steps that the EU ever made have arguably been the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. The Euro has also been one of the most controversial steps it ever made.

Small steps are the name of the game in the EU: two steps forward, one step back. The countries of the EU have disagreements on almost every subject and have often totally opposite interests.

The countries of the EU have 27 different agenda’s, coming from 27 totally different populations that hated eachother’s guts in the not too distant past. On top of that these countries are eachother’s worst competitors on the areas of agriculture, industry, services and transport & distribution.

Still, the union moved on and achieved unbelievable results:
  • One currency almost everywhere in the EU;
  • No more borders and no more hassling by customs' officers of people, trucks and companies coming from another country;
  • Enormous achievements in the standardization and improvement of quality and safety for agricultural produce, tools, quantitative units, household appliances, labor regulations and zillions of other important things that most people overlook, but make use of every day.
  • A minimized amount of red tape between totally different countries;
  • Surprising solidarity between the countries of the EU and a safe and peaceful Europe for everybody.
Now, as a consequence of the credit crisis and the enormous changes that it triggered within the European Union, it is time for a massive maintenance inspection of the EU:

  • The EU and the ECB have spent hundreds of billions of Euro’s in keeping illiquid banks afloat without any visible results. The tax-payer might pay for this pleasure.
  • The decision making process within the EU has speeded up so dramatically, pushed by the credit crisis, that the population started to leap behind and wants to keep things the same for a few years. ‘Further integration of the EU: not in my backyard!’
  • The democratic content of the European Union is still worrisome, the control model with the EC at one side and the government leaders at the other seems disfunctional at best and the European Parliament is too much a king without a crown: it is there and it does a lot of work, but nobody knows what exactly.
  • The EU ‘musqueteers’ want to move forward, while the government leaders hit the brakes continuously.
  • Great Britain sings: ‘Should I stay or should I go’; France thinks about its subsidized farmers first and foremost; the True Finns are truly against the EU; Belgium seemed on its way to become the only ungoverned country in the world; some of the East-European countries have a hard time abolishing bad habits from their recent past; Germany is afraid that it must foot every bill in the EU; Italy… well, is Italy; Spain might become the first country with 100% unemployment  and Greece is just happy to live another day.

    And The Netherlands? It tries to break former Soviet-leader Nikita Gruschev’s world record of saying ‘nyet’ in political hotspots.
    • Today the rumour was spread that the EU wants to appoint Mark Rutte as a leader of the Euro-group, successing Luxemburg PM Jean-Claude Juncker: that would shut him up, by making him responsible for the Euro. Rutte, of course, categorically denied!
In other words, the government leaders seemed to mess up all the time during the last five years.

Those are the difficulties that Herman van Rompuy et al. must find an answer to, in order to reinstate the European Union as the symbol of hope that it has always been and should be again.

So Mr. Van Rompuy: please pick up this prize with all the pride that you have stored in you. You have a truly herculean task to do in the coming years. You have my faith and I wish you good luck with it. We need the EU in Europe and we need you to take this honorable institute by the hand! 

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