At CEPS Lab, politicians and leaders gathered to debate the future of Europe post-Brexit. What they found was a host of new challengesby Marie Le Conte / March 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
There is a fine line between competence and complacency, and it is not always clear when Jean-Claude Juncker crosses it.
The president of the EU Commission was the star guest of CEPS Labs, a conference on the future of Europe which took place in Brussels last week, and while his speech was largely uncontroversial, his contempt for the audience afterwards was barely concealed.
He frequently gave one-word answers to questions. Occasionally, he told audience members with earnest queries that they were simply wrong.
One of the cherries on the arrogant cake came in response to a question on—what else?—Brexit.
Mete Coban, a fresh faced 25-year old Brit, stood up and asked: “given young people overwhelmingly voted to remain and want to maintain close relationship with EU, what message would you send to them?”
Irascible, Juncker shot back: “It would have been better for the British and for the Europeans if they had taken another decision.” Next.
Yet on this point at least, his visible annoyance felt partly justified: the conference was about what the continent should do next, and for most in the bubble, the UK has little to do with it.
So, what now? A comparison between the conference’s recent titles shows that this year, there was at least an optimistic theme.
In 2014, the Centre for European Policy Studies launched the event and used “Does Europe Matter?” as a tagline. 2015’s slogan was the equally reluctant “More or less Europe?”
2016 was hardly more positive, asking “An EU fit for purpose?”, but last year’s started cautiously putting its head back above the parapet, with “Reconstructing Europe”.
In this context, 2018’s “Europe Back On Track” suggests at least an attempt at optimism: in spite of Juncker’s dismissiveness, Brexit was seen as one of the disasters the EU could now leave behind.
The rise of the EU
It started off well: in the first session of the two-day conference, CEO of—among other things—polling company Kantar Michelle Harrison told the audience exactly what they wanted to hear, in the form of research her team had conducted on the EU.
“The latest figures from last year show that the level of positivity has moved back to 57 per cent so overall that’s a fantastically…