Political inertia often characterises the last phase of any political term as parties prepare for the next electoral contest. In the run-up to an election, candidates sharpen their rhetorical skills to impress voters and hopefully make it to the corridors of power. The European Parliament (EP) election is just around the corner, and the Brussels rhetoric is becoming louder.

Language aficionados observe how politicians use different rhetorical techniques to encourage their audiences to agree with their arguments in the run-up to an election. Diversion is one of the most favoured techniques. Politicians may shift the focus away from current problems evident to most voters by attacking their adversaries’ policies. Attacking another politician’s personality or solutions to issues troubling voters diverts attention away from inherent flaws in a speaker’s argument.

Repetition is another powerful technique often used in political rhetoric. In the next few weeks leading to the EP election, expect a deluge of SMSs, tweets, junk political mail and pop-up adverts on social media repeating the slogans usually encapsulating crowd-pleasing proposals of candidates. There will also be no shortage of visual onslaughts. Politicians excel in manipulating their image to create a more trustworthy, righteous and intelligent version of themselves.

A few months ago, the State of the Union speech by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was a textbook example of political rhetoric at its best. But did it delve into the challenges that most ordinary Europeans face regarding the existential challenges of the EU?

Brussels politicians and the institutions they work with use the word ‘strategy’ frequently but practise it rarely. They like to look at the big picture and project themselves as visionaries who know what needs to be done to make the Union great.

The next European Commission must have the political will and vision to define the institutional reforms needed to put the governance of the Union on a stable keel

Von der Leyen titled her address to the EP ‘Answering the call of history’. She sounded determined to address specific current challenges but glossed over other everyday issues that ordinary Europeans worry about.

Admittedly, von der Leyan, despite the many political skeletons in her cupboard, successfully handled specific issues in her term. She steered the EU ship of state relatively well during the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine with its many knock-on effects on energy, food and security.

Her crisis management skills were needed in the last four years when extraordinary and exceptional events disrupting people’s lives became the norm. As a shrewd politician, she frequently delegated the solution of an impending complex management task to member states’ leaders within the European Council.

However, EU observers are increasingly asking whether European citizens content themselves with institutions that just seek to muddle through. When will the Brussels politicians address the structural weaknesses that pose an existential threat to the Union? Why has the shock of the pandemic and the evolving geopolitical turmoil not generated some consensus on the need to regain control of the direction of history?

The governance of the EU is characterised by national interests blocking the implementation of strategies that would make the Union a credible economic and political superpower.

For instance, in July 2019, von der Leyen promised to launch a Green Deal in the first 100 days of her term. Her newfound enthusiasm for an environmentally friendly economic strategy was not inspired by a genuine desire to reverse the dependence on fossil fuels. She wanted to gain the support of the EP, where the centre-left parties held the balance of power.

Von der Leyen glossed over the more sensitive issues that affect ordinary people’s lives. She offered no tangible solutions to the problems of high inflation, slow economic growth, uncontrolled irregular immigration  and the rule of law failures in countries like Poland and Hungary.

The new Commission that will be in place in a few months may again have von der Leyen as its president. She must show that Europe can manage external shocks and successfully plan, build and project a new future for all its citizens.

If the Union continues to be characterised by growing internal mistrust, especially in the context of enlargement, many more Europeans will increasingly treat the Brussels rhetoric as hollow and irrelevant to their lives. Absenteeism in elections will continue to increase.

The next European Commission must have the political will and vision to define the institutional reforms needed to put the governance of the Union on a stable keel. The EU must move from being a glorified common market to an effective and relevant union of nations that can protect their collective interests in an increasingly fractured world.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us