Crafting the next generation of young European leaders to meet new emerging challenges towards a stronger Europe

By Amélie de Montchalin, MPA’14, Correspondent

On March 2 and 3, Harvard will host its first European Conference. Organized by students from the Harvard Kennedy School, the Harvard Business School and The Fletcher School –Tufts University, this event aims at showing that Europe is not just about crisis, and that some interesting projects are being developed on this continent.

Another goal of the conference is to make clear that a strong and united Europe isn’t just an advantage for Europeans. A Europe with higher political credibility inside its borders will indeed be more efficient outside its borders. Given the generalized skepticism of the Anglo-Saxon public on the value and future of the European Union (EU), the positioning of the conference is already a political act.

Building this stronger Europe is our job, as young Europeans, but is also the responsibility of all future policymakers (and thus HKS students). Supporting Europe is not only a mere act of assistance. For many countries, it will also be a way to preserve their own interests. Most of the other global powers, starting with the United States, prefer to face a pseudo-united European voice rather than a cacophony of 27 speakers in their diplomatic and geopolitical negotiations. Also, U.S. and BRIC (Brazil, India, Russia, and China) companies prefer dealing with a single market of 500 million consumers, over navigating the twists and turns of scattered smaller markets.

So what’s the real nature of the challenge my generation of Europeans face today? What’s the battle we are trying to fight and win, and for which we are asking for some external support?

As a French citizen, it is self-evident that the European Union has made my life better. First, my generation has not had to wage a war against any neighboring country, which so many earlier young Europeans had to do so for so many centuries. Instead, I learned German at school and many of my best friends here at Harvard are from this previous sworn enemy country. Also, on more practical terms, all European countries have agreed to share some standards, processes and norms, as well as a currency, to make exchanges and trade easier. There are no more border controls when you travel inside Europe.  Every year, around 200,000 European students study and live in another country thanks to the Erasmus program.

In historic hindsight, these developments are already a lot. But given the new challenges Europe is facing, they are clearly not enough.

On many grounds and in many ways, the integration reached is technical. Most of the cultural, social and political adaptation is still a challenge lying ahead. As seen, for instance during the Balkan wars in the 1990s, European countries are not yet able to renegotiate their historical allegiances and maintain a distance from their old allies so as to promote a peace they all wish to defend.

Today, the Eurozone crisis is encouraging anew many nationalistic reflexes. Singling out immigrants has become a new but depressingly repetitive subject in many political campaigns and popular newspapers.

In a way, despite the European Union having become a new technocratic reality, it must now prove it can become a political reality. The current lack of popular legitimacy, recognition and sovereignty is not a surprise.

As a matter of fact, the Founding Fathers of the European Union sought to first create the concrete aspects of the integration, so that the political ones – the most difficult to negotiate – could be taken up later. They knew 60 years ago that nothing would be more helpful in striking an unbreakable deal than the strength of the fait accompli – of other forms of comfortable commonality having been reached already.

Today, Europe faces this crucial moment. Apart from David Cameron, no serious politician really thinks that the option of going back (or out) would be feasible. But very few are displaying the willingness and proactive action that they could and should, so as to create a new political system that would make Europe strong enough to go through its current and future crisis with efficient common strategies. The current debt issue is indeed probably only an appetizer hinting at the future problems arising from the consequences of aging populations, global competition to keep high-end jobs and cross-continental migrations,

I therefore feel that the latest crisis in Europe started and grew on economic ground, but is today above all a political and leadership crisis. We now need leaders.  Leaders who are able to blend dexterity of thought, courage and subtle time management to make this project move further with popular support. Empowering the current generation of young Europeans is probably a good start.

This empowerment and movement in favor of new and young leadership can start, right here, at Harvard- with your help.

For more details on the European Conference at Harvard, please visit www.europeanconference.org