What Kind of Political Leadership Does Europe Need? by Judy Dempsey
Rosa Balfourhead of the Europe in the World Programme, European Policy Centre
The poverty of leadership or, more particularly, the absence of a “new Jacques Delors” is lamented as one of the causes of Europe’s crisis. But the crisis partly stems from the EU being an elite-led project which pays great respect to technocracy (forgetting that the technocratic method was just a means to address politics, not an end in itself). Since Delors, the EU is much larger, more powerful and diversified (each in themselves are extraordinary achievements), making it harder to find a charismatic leader with a big idea, or to run it on the basis of presumed technocratic legitimacy.
So Europe needs more politics, more leaders, and more than leaders. It needs committed European citizens who believe the EU is the place to find solutions to European problems, political representatives who make Europe a forum for their political battles, economic and social actors thinking about pan-European problems and solutions. And it needs to re-engage in an ideological (to use an unfashionable term) debate about the EU’s raison d’être.
James W. Davisdirector of the Institute of Political Science, University of St. Gallen
One is tempted to say “effective!” But gauging effectiveness presumes consensus over strategic goals and an appropriate metric for measuring progress toward their achievement. Alas, Europe today lacks both. So it comes as no surprise that the EU has been unable to craft a coherent and ambitious response to the ongoing financial crisis. Lacking consensus on the proper balance between the austerity measures demanded by Berlin and the economic growth that will be necessary if Europe is to remain true to its fundamental values, leadership has been replaced by the politics of “muddling through.” So a better answer is probably “legitimate political leadership.” Legitimacy would afford European leadership the authority needed to make the sorts of value trade-offs that are a precondition for effective strategy. But since legitimacy ultimately derives from the consent of the governed, the prospects for legitimate political leadership hinge on redressing the European Union’s democratic deficit.
Jackson Janesexecutive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University
While the challenges facing many countries in Europe are enormously complicated economic and political puzzles, the leadership of each country is facing a crisis of credibility. Voters are increasingly uncertain about their individual future and about the ability of their leaders to deliver a convincing set of solutions with which they can identify and support. Governments face skepticism and anger, often generated by indecisive or opportunistic leaders but also by the impatience of citizens often unwilling to face hard choices. Europe needs leaders who can convey authenticity and honesty in portraying what is at stake while inspiring support for difficult decisions. Those leaders will not be found in the offices of the EU in Brussels, as much in the national capitals. They will be those men and women who can convincingly remind their own citizens and those of other countries why Europe still remains a shared goal with shared benefits and sacrifices. Europe has created a large set of institutions. It still remains necessary to create Europeans willing to invest their interests and future in them. Europe needs those who can show leadership in reforging a convincing narrative for that purpose. It will not surprise me if that leadership emerges in the newer members of the EU.
Daniel Keohanehead of strategic affairs at FRIDE, Brussels
Sadly there are no European JFKs. How many national politicians ask their citizens not what Europe can do for them, but what they can do for Europe? Perhaps this is because voters want results, not rhetoric. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, described the politicians’ dilemma: “We know what needs to be done, but we don’t know how to get re-elected after we have done it”.
Unsurprisingly, many governments have been removed from office since the economic downturn. But recent elections also suggest that European politics is becoming more extreme. The Italian government needed the Lega Nord, the Dutch government depended on Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen came third in France’s presidential election, the True Finns won 19%, and the far-left and far-right will probably gain in the upcoming Greek election. The message is clear: if mainstream parties do not get positive economic results, anti-EU parties will increasingly gain power across Europe.
Anand Menonprofessor of West European Politics at University of Birmingham
States being states, Europe needs bottom up, consensual leadership. Bottom up because, popular Brussels fictions notwithstanding, no EU institutional system, or High Representative (no, not even Carl Bildt) could cajole sovereign member states into actions at odds with their perceived self-interest. Those same member states that have excelled in sniping at Baroness Ashton for not “taking the lead,” are precisely those that would react most forcefully should she do so in ways in which they disapprove. Consensual, because Europe only works if the member states are pulling in the same direction. Leadership requires followership. Even leadership by the “bigs” imposed on the smalls (assuming the former themselves manage to agree) will result ultimately only in resentment and non-compliance. Clearly, this places limits on the possible. That is something must learn to live with. Until states cease being states.
Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
Europe needs a robust, far-sighted, and crisis-solving leadership. The euro crisis has unearthed short-term national responses. Political leaders aren’t providing an overall framework for how they see the crisis and how it should be solved.
A case in point: the contradictory stance of the Dutch government advocating budget cuts for everybody else and now jumping off to early elections when they have to swallow the same austerity medicine.
So Europe lacks leaders that can frame solutions, which are convincing beyond their borders, about a joint European future. Merkel has the robustness and a clear strategy, but fails to convince broadly beyond the German borders. The French leader Sarkozy or Hollande is either threating with an “empty chair” or with fiscal pact renegotiations that will make markets go into a downward spin. None of the options are likely to improve Europe’s cohesiveness. True European leadership by national leaders is the first victim of the current crisis.
Gianni Riottamember of the Council on Foreign Relations
“A” political leadership would be enough. What we have today is a hodgepodge of populist rage opposed to a cold, technocratic approach. In France, one-third of the voters went for Le Pen or Mélenchon, and twenty percent abstained. This represents a huge pool of dissent against the markets and globalization and no European country is free of it. “A” political leader would steer the Union to a stern fiscal compact or maybe design a more flexible approach to growth. What we experience is a frenetic stop and go, the leaders reacting to events while never trying to start a process of mending the economy on their own. If Mr. Hollande wins in France, he may spark a positive dialectic vis à vis Mrs. Merkel, unless he contributes to more frenetic running in place. So give us “A” leader please, but a “true” leader.
Stephen Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy
As most of Europe faces an emergency situation like in World War II and the Great Depression, it needs grand coalitions along the lines of German coalitions which include major parties from across the political spectrum. Given that Europe still means the member states, this would imply consensus-oriented broad coalitions in key EU countries. Europe needs moderation to fend off the extremist temptation which grows during times of political and economic dislocation. This is not a time for either Margaret Thatcher or Francois Mitterrand. Europe needs a blend of austerity with growth promotion, a balanced approach on immigration and a long-term strategy which avoids creating more Greeces and feeding Le Pen type movements. The core will be in the Franco-German relationship which could see a grand coalition between a growth-oriented Hollande government and a fiscally cautious Merkel coalition, perhaps one which will include the Social Democrats after next year’s German elections. This Paris-Berlin grand coalition may not be very exciting but it offers Europe the best hope of emerging from its current crisis with renewed liberal democratic societies.
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