Interview with Jimmy Jamar, Head of the European Commission Representation in Belgium

In this edition of our Newsletter, Jimmy Jamar, Head of the European Commission Representation in Belgium, replies to questions on the European Union’s future following the elections. Will we see in the coming five years the development of a stronger EU not only financially but also as shared project? The first elected European Union after Lisbon has arrived and the College of Europe Development Office continues training officials and professionals to improve their performance in their daily work with and within the European Union. Do not miss the opportunity of understanding this new Europe by reading the interview with Mr Jamar, a former College Alumni (1974-75) and author of Pourquoi aimer l’Europe … Maintenant? published in April 2014.

 

 

 

In your opinion, was the rate of participation in the European Elections optimal?

No. Even if the participation rate was slightly higher in some Member States, the additional votes went in majority to Eurosceptic parties.  So we can hardly call this optimal. 

 

Will the new European Parliament be capable of building a common voice on the EU or are we facing a stronger fragmentation?

The image is certainly blurred. One the one hand, the larger groups can claim that they retained their stronghold. On the other, it is true that the Parliament will host a whole range of Eurosceptic and, for the first time, even openly declared anti-European parties. Some of them are likely to form a political group – such as the foreseen European Alliance for Freedom, composed of extreme-right parties, others will remain isolated. But what is much more worrying is the Eurosceptic stance of a series of so-called 'traditional' parties, particularly in Northern Europe, which, when it comes to defend European positions, seem to be refrained by the possible reactions from their extremes. I think it is time to rethink fundamentally the objectives, the priorities and the mission of the European Union. All actors – including the groups in the European Parliament – will have to take their responsibilities. It's the survival of the European project itself that is at stake here.    

 

Which are the main challenges to recover citizens’ trust on the EU?

During 50 years, public support for the European Union was largely divided among three groups: 20 % of declared pro-Europeans (mostly the elites), 60 to 65 % of 'neutrals' or 'indifferent', and 15 % of people who rejected the project since the beginning, mainly on the extremes. One if the effects of the recent crisis was a spectacular switch from the 'neutrals' to the 'skeptics'. With a very clear consequence : these people are going to be very difficult to re-capture in the group of supporters. What triggered this move was a strong perception by the people that the project no longer protected them. In order to recover people's trust, we need therefore two things: a clear vision for the future, and a radical new way to communicate Europe to the people.    

 

How would you build communication channels between the EU institutions and the citizens of 28 Member States?

We need to modify basically everything: our messages, our tools and our strategy. We need to stop believing that Europe is good for people. At a moment where no one takes the project for granted any more, we need a much more modest and subtle approach to people, structured around people's daily needs ('What can Europe do for you?'). And above all, we need to stop the EU-bashing in Member States. The use of Europe as a scapegoat was overplayed by governments in nearly all member States as a means to divert responsibility and to save face in times of crisis. Instead of comforting their own positions, this strategy contributed to the emergence of populist and Eurosceptic parties in nearly all countries. National governments must understand that they are fully part of the project. So to change people's minds is a matter of shared responsibility: the governments, the institutions, but also civil society.

 

Why should we love Europe?

The question is not to 'love' Europe or not. But since the European project I the only one in the world to affect daily the lives of over 500 million people, there is necessarily an emotional of an affective element that plays a role somewhere. People are attached to their village or city, to their region and their country, and somehow there is also this 'European' component. The Americans used this element since the beginning, by creating, within or alongside their Constitution, the elements to build the 'American dream' (hymn, flag, core values etc). For a long time, this attachment was taken for granted in the building of the European project. It is no longer the case. We need to reflect on this. Because one thing is sure: as much as we may progress towards a monetary, a budgetary, an economic or  banking Union, we won't succeed to achieve the project against the will of the feelings of the European people.