“It’s like musicians in their bow-ties playing on board the Titanic,” remarked a friend of mine as I was talking to them about the EU’s 60th anniversary celebrations in Rome.
A mild exaggeration, shall we say – but the image sticks in my mind.
Because as the leaders of the EU’s 27 countries clink champagne glasses in plush, security-tight surroundings on Saturday – all is not well in the Europe outside their gates: youth unemployment persists (especially in the south), terror attacks, illegal migration, inequalities in the Eurozone, Brexit and a tide of anti-establishment populist nationalism across much of the bloc.
To name a few of the challenges. Not to mention “strongmen” Presidents Trump, Putin and Erdogan who all eye the EU with suspicion and some animosity.
“Yes,” conceded European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to me in an exclusive interview. “We are not in the best form and shape we could be in.”
But, he insisted, the EU was still young, adding that what the bloc had achieved in six decades was remarkable – Europe is now a continent of stability and peace.
But that was the vision, the goal after World War Two, I countered.
Surely there’s a need for a new vision? Something to capture the public imagination. To re-enchant the disenchanted?
Mr Juncker recently published a White Paper on the future of the EU. where he explored five different scenarios – from increased union to paring pooled powers back to the common market only.
In between, he breathes life into the old idea of a “two-speed Europe” – where some countries share more sovereignty for example over defence or migration, while others opt out.
That proposal appears to be the most popular amongst politicians and civil servants, but to me it sounds like an open admission that there is, in fact, no common EU vision – with everyone doing different things at different times.
All this at a very sensitive moment – when one of the EU’s biggest and most influential members, the UK, is about to walk out of the door.
And unity amongst the remaining 27 countries is key for Brussels – to prove to the outside world that the EU still stands strong. BBC.