Van Rompuy strikes a good balance

The Nobel Lecture when the EU received the 2012 Peace Prize was a speech in two chapters, the first delivered by Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the Council, and the second by Jose Barroso, President of the Commission. It was van Rompuy who addressed the issues I raised in yesterday’s post and he did it pretty well.

The Nobel Lecture

Here is the relevant passage from Van Rompuy’s part of the Nobel Lecture:

“So, where there was war, there is now peace. But another historic task now lies ahead of us: keeping peace where there is peace. After all, history is not a novel, a book we can close after a Happy Ending: we remain fully responsible for what is yet to come.

“This couldn’t be more clear than it is today, when we are hit by the worst economic crisis in two generations, causing great hardship among our people, and putting the political bonds of our Union to the test.

“Parents struggling to make ends meet, workers recently laid off, students who fear that, however hard they try, they won’t get that first job: when they think about Europe, peace is not the first thing that comes to mind…

“When prosperity and employment, the bedrock of our societies, appear threatened, it is natural to see a hardening of hearts, the narrowing of interests, even the return of long-forgotten fault-lines and stereotypes. For some, not only joint decisions, but the very fact of deciding jointly, may come into doubt.

“And while we must keep a sense of proportion – even such tensions don’t take us back to the darkness of the past –, the test Europe is currently facing is real.

(…)

“We answer with our deeds, confident we will succeed. We are working very hard to overcome the difficulties, to restore growth and jobs.”

A promise?

The Nobel Lecture is not an occasion when you expect specific policy commitments. It’s rightly a time for reflection, comment, ethical commitment – but not promises, not even politicians’ promises. So the two Presidents who spoke (the third there present, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, did not give a lecture – perhaps he got to give the after dinner speech in the evening, also a significant if less formal occasion) did right not to get into policies.

Nonetheless, there is something there in Van Rompuy’s words, something of value, something to take away from the day - a moral undertaking that the concerns of ordinary people will figure in the calculations and deliberations of the EU’s leaders – parents trying to make ends meet, people who’ve lost their jobs, students looking at a bleak future…

In a recent Spanish indignados demonstration, one of the main slogans was, “We want to live like our parents did.” Van Rompuy has said the top level of the EU can hear that. Time will tell if it’s true and if they can act on it convincingly and effectively.

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