Europe needs swagger

Want a reason why Europe needs swagger: Here's 9


Three years ago this week, Europe won a Nobel Peace Prize. Fifty years of peace in my mind is the strongest proof than political decision-making has drastically improved and is far more cohesive than in the 50 years before. But it's just the start. What about the next five decades, even just the next five years? The critical question now is how we lay the foundations for a stronger European Union (EU) capable of asserting itself in the future.

Fragmented politics

Trust is scarce and not just among leaders but between entire nations. Northern Europeans are still suspicious of the south and their potential profligacy and we can now add to that an east-west divide over how to address the migrant crisis. European Parliament president Martin Schulz told me that addressing these fractures is the critical step needed to give Europe it's confidence and swagger back.


The accepted wisdom on Europe's political decision-making is that it comes with a caveat or two. Can we spin it domestically and does Angela Merkel agree? If not, think again. Yet as Teneo's Carsten Nickel suggested in a note last week: "The East European pushback in the migrant crisis - has highlighted that even if France, Germany and the Commission agree, this no longer equals a deal in Brussels."

Read More Europe's crisis of confidence

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The game has changed and the political ramifications are far broader. The current migrant crisis plays firmly in to the hands of euroskeptics in the UK in what could become Europe's biggest political test so far: David Cameron's Brexit referendum.

Brexit and Grexit

Xavier Rolet, French-born chief executive of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), and a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's top-level business advisory group, told CNBC this week that "if the UK were to leave, I don't think the EU would survive."

Alarmist or not, Europeans and their leaders need to hear it. Now let's take the last four months. Europe's been suffering from a heavy dose of bailout fatigue. But that doesn't excuse the political hot potato throwing between EU leaders, finance ministers and let's not forget German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's flirt with the idea of a temporary Grexit. Investors are so used to European political dysfunction followed by an 11th hour solution they largely ignored it.

Us vs Them

There's clearly going to be more lengthy summits on three main issues: Greece, UK and Refugees. So now we wait for the fireworks, the demonstrations of fake confidence and swagger and the "us vs them" mentality that has become a regular feature of managing the message to the electorate.

I often hear criticism of "Brussels"' but before we start bashing the institutions let's remember that the European Commission had a plan on the refugee crisis and the individual nations refused it. The Commission also tried to address the Greek crisis earlier this year and was shot down in flames there too. Does the fault really lie with the institutions in Brussels or with a short-sighted electorate and political leaders who put the next election ahead of the greater European good. To quote Commission president Jean-claude Juncker's during the financial crisis "we all know what we've got to do, we just don't know how to do it and get re-elected."

Read More Europe: The best is yet to come?

It's true that reform takes time and longer than one four-year term. Europe may have survived six years of debt crisis, austerity, the rise of populism, inequality and discontent but even as recovery starts to take hold, European nations are increasingly bogged down by national perceptions and preoccupations.

More Europe

European leaders may struggle with these negotiations but I've lost track of the number of finance ministers who've quipped "we get there in the end." The question is whether we get there in the end on "more Europe" too and, along the way, ultimately accept that a two-tier system in Europe needs to be part of the solution.

Schulz told me that "euro zone nations and non-euro zone countries must find a way to deal on an equal footing." I'd argue both Schaeuble and his U.k. counterpart, George Osborne, are hoping they can find some way to make an effective two-tier system involving more euro zone integration and more autonomy for everyone else.

More euro zone

But even if closer integration for the euro zone and more autonomy for those outside the single currency is the answer, the trick is how you communicate that message to highly suspicious voters. I struggle to see any electorate in Europe, or even just the euro zone at this moment willing to give up further sovereignty to achieve some higher and better aim.

The bottom line is what started as austerity fatigue coming out of the financial crisis has now become an acute case of EU fatigue.

Five presidents plan post-2017 elections

Even the most pro-integrationist leaders understand that. Step forward President's Draghi, Dijsselbloem, Tusk, Juncker and Schulz. They may have presented the most detailed plan yet for More Europe but even they seem to recognise that treaty change can come only after a potential UK referendum in 2017 and conveniently after the French and German elections.

The sad fact is there'll always be another election or another reason to hold off. Europe has more debt now than before the financial crisis began on a sovereign level so only many levels the vulnerabilities remain.


We're likely stuck with this EU Fatigue until either a stronger recovery means politicians are less eager to use 'Europe' as a scapegoat for economic ills and or they get better at educating voters about the broader benefits of being a member. I am afraid we could be waiting a long while.

Peace and Swagger

But let's not end on a bad note, our baseline here is 50 years of peace. And let's remember that Europe shouldn't be -- and isn't -- defined by the individual politicians or governments or the messy politics so frequently on display. This week CNBC has spoken to a whole array of European success stories who are in many cases adopting a "carry-on-regardless" attitude. We just need a reminder of our collective European "swagger" sometimes and certainly voters and leaders do too.