by JESMOND SALIBA
When the new EU Commission was unveiled in late 2019, a media storm erupted over the appointment of a commissioner for the promotion of the European Way of Life. Critics across the bloc were up in arms, denouncing a role that smacked of exclusivity, racism, and misplaced self-importance. Others went even further and claimed that Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to forge ahead betrayed enduring imperialist undertones among the leaders of European nations.
The question about what makes a way of life ‘European’ and whether there ought to be an EU Commissioner promoting it has all the right components to generate a heated – probably inconclusive – debate. And that opportunity has not been wasted.
But controversies about notions of europeanisms miss the wood for the trees. The more profound issue here is not which traits, habits, and conditions require preservation, but which values, attitudes, and systems the EU wants to champion in an increasingly fragmentary-yet-interlinked global community.
These very qualities were to rapidly rise to the surface a few months after the inauguration of the new Commission, in the world crash caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The EU’s commitment to interdependence presented a stark contrast with regions and nations that espoused isolationism; the European Commission was a firm voice for global equality in the distribution of treatments and vaccines, while member states showed a natural preference for working with worldwide bodies rather than mounting unilateral propaganda campaigns.
The European Commission, European Parliament, and Council of Ministers demonstrated a refreshing determination to finally click into coordinated action and deliver a sound, visionary plan that turns the crisis into a generational opportunity for the European family.
The swift, though not uncomplicated, process of the Multi-annual Financial Framework, channelling the ambitions of the EU Green Deal, was a truly remarkable accomplishment that promises to crystallise into the starting point of a new era of European optimism.
Power in the international community is often wielded through economic might and military capability, but the European Union shows that global leadership is set by moral standards and common purpose. The EU’s long-standing goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, for example, is now shared by partners including Japan and the UK. Meanwhile, the proposal has also become a main plank of Joe Biden’s platform heading into the US presidential elections.
At 70, the union of European citizens has outgrown the status of experiment and is now a programme, a collective project to build a future that accommodates human diversity in its wholeness. European influence on the global stage means the promotion of the many ways and the many lives that find comfort in the strength of unity.