The first European leadership programme


he immediate priority for European leadership is to respond to the disintegration and nationalism that is gaining ground in Europe, the Young Leaders noted. As national economies begin to show signs of recovery from the crisis, the most important threat to the EU project are the divisions that are appearing in European politics and societies.
Waning trust between European governments and citizens is leading to the rise of populist politics in Europe and, with the European Parliament election on the horizon, the possibility of anti-EU sentiment is increasing as economic growth continues at low levels across the EU.
The European project has been continuing forward on autopilot when what is needed is an inclusive discussion on the question of unity and what role the EU can take in both a global and local context.
While federation is the key to a more harmonious union, given the slow pace at which the decision-making process occurs in Europe, EU institutions and leaders need to determine what can be done to foster more unity under the current framework.
The timeframe to address the urgent economic, political, and social divergence across and between the member states is much shorter than the glacial pace of structural and institutional reforms that, by necessity, characterise the EU’s democratic process.
This urgency is particularly felt in the context of the economic crisis. While many feel that the crisis was a result of the lack of true economic union in the EU, there is simply not enough time to move forward on this issue, while member state economies, particularly in the south, are witnessing increasing polarisation, youth unemployment, and political failure.
Combating these alarming trends requires more trust among member state governments, as well as between them and the citizenry. Leaders need to strive to work together through the EU institutions to support each other and resolve their differences.
This seeming inability to agree on policy decisions is damaging the EU’s presence in the world, as unresolved issues in common foreign policy, common defence policy and development aid do not allow the EU to speak with one voice in the world. As a result, the EU’s soft power – heralded as its greatest tool in today’s multi-polar world – is being mismanaged and diluted through superfluous member state efforts.
Member states need to correct this by working past the rising tendency to nationalism and acknowledging that Europeans can only have a hand in shaping global trends if they are willing to cooperate and to be seen to cooperate on the European level on global issues.
However, to achieve this united presence, issues at home need to be dealt with, especially economic growth, increasing competitiveness, and dealing with the rise to unprecedented levels of youth unemployment. Saving the ‘lost generation’ from joblessness is essential for the social and economic future of Europe.
The answer to these problems in the EU is a new approach to leadership. While in the past, the European project was led by people with an overarching vision of what the future could be, there is currently a serious lack of effective leadership. Europeans must move beyond national priorities and think of better ways to work together to promote and take part in the EU project.

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