The EU has a good story to tell. To tell it better, its leaders need to learn from Joe Biden and take a risk on showing themselves to be vulnerable human beings
A compelling political narrative is imperative for the survival of the European Union. Populists chip away at the foundations of liberal democracy while foreign powers actively interfere in Europe’s domestic affairs using “alternative facts” to breed fear and undermine social cohesion. In the words of Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, winning this “battle of narratives” will be decisive in determining the future world (dis)order.
The covid-19 pandemic adds new urgency to Europe’s quest for a compelling narrative. It has become a turf in the battle of narratives itself. Both China and Russia have stepped up their interference in Europe and its neighbourhood to attempt to portray the EU – and democratic systems more generally – as too weak and to slow to contain the pandemic. These efforts fall on fertile ground as the financial crisis, the political controversies sparked by large-scale migration, and the covid-19 pandemic have shaken the core of public confidence: Europeans fear for their money, their identity, and now their lives. A European narrative needs to address this deeply felt unease and offer reassurance to its citizens. With a new US president-elect keen to rebuild ties across the Atlantic, the EU has now also gained momentum to push back against authoritarian forces and project itself as a powerful global player and potent ally in the global war of words.