A gray sky hung over Brussels yesterday evening as we all piled in to the century-old Bibliotheque Solvay in the heart of Parc Leopold, the hilly oasis of green tucked alongside the European Parliament in Brussels, for the official launch of the Tomorrow's Europe deliberative poll. Whether the clouds would part or the rain begin to fall it was impossible to say.
Much the same could be said for the current state of the EU. In the last two years, since the rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters, the European Union has likewise been decidedly overcast, its future unclear.
Will a solution be found to the constitutional deadlock that can allow the EU to bask in the sunshine of popular acclaim, or will the decided similarities between the new Reform Treaty and the old Constitution be so great that a recalcitrant member state (possibly the UK, where referendum calls are growing, but just as likely Denmark or Poland) end up vetoing the new text, opening up the heavens for a torrential downpour of fresh criticism?
As the event drew to a close, the rain did indeed begin to fall - relentlessly. An omen of the crisis to come? Perhaps. But this morning, as I boarded the Eurostar back to London, the clouds parted - and the heart of the EU was bathed in a brilliant September sunshine. Good reforms may seem unlikely when the clouds of disagreement are broiling all around, but there is always hope of something positive emerging from the storm.
Of course, this morning I made the mistake of venturing out into the rain without waiting for it to stop. In my rush, I got absolutely soaked, prompting much muttered swearing and regrets that I'd even attempted to venture out. Then I managed to drop my street map in a puddle, causing all kinds of confusion. Without the comfort of a map, and with familiar landmarks obscured by the rain, how would I be able to find which way I should go?
Well, it's simple - if you don't know the precise path, at least try to head in the vague direction while looking out for signs that you're on the right track, and ask people on the street for help (carefully avoiding the ones who look like nutters, of course). Sure enough, before long I found myself at the station with plenty of time to spare.
A tortured analogy, but a valid one, as this is where the EU currently stands - lost without a map and still feeling the effects of an ongoing storm of criticism over its direction. Its precise path is no longer clear, but it is rapidly approaching decision time, as if it stands still much longer it (much like the jacket I was wearing this morning) will be soaked to the point of ruin.
So, should the EU forge ahead even though it no longer knows which is the right direction, look for signs on its own, or ask for directions from the man in the street? The best solution, as I found this morning, is a combination of all of the above - but will the powers that be within the EU have the courage to try? The response to this deliberative poll - as well as the other ongoing attempts to bring the citizens of Europe into the EU decision-making process - from the EU's various institutions will be intriguing to see...
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