A respectable man stands at the base of a tower, shouting up to who knows where. ‘Can you hear me up there? My water is contaminated.’ Eventually after days of standing and shouting to no avail, a letter floats down, ‘Message received: Your wife is constipated. There is nothing I can do to help you.’ Dismayed, the respectable man has to do something to fix his water and wanders off to think. He encounters a burly man much younger than he that speaks of a way to have all water clean. Looking back at the tower, he sighs in dismay, and accepts the trinket the man had on display.
Politics, particularly during election season, is about the appeal of a potential ‘leader’. To voters, it is of vital importance that a politician has the ability to fix, or at least attend to, the problems present in daily life. As the saying goes, if you do not trust your politician to guide you through a sandstorm, then find someone who you would trust. Political leaders have a great power and responsibility in the lives of those who elected them. The people give them this power believing that it is for the benefit of all, not for the sake of elevating a leader above all others.
Europe is in desperate need of a group of political leaders who will strive to benefit all in society, and address the problems at hand. The European elections this spring are extremely important, not just due to the position of Commission President, but with the rise in Euroscepticism throughout the EU and beyond. It is time for European politicians to act genuinely on behalf of the people or move aside so that someone more willing can. Not everyone can be a true leader, and the rise in Euroscepticism itself has implications for what type of leader the European people should look for in the upcoming election.
I will not hide that I personally am strongly pro – EU. That said, having concentrated on Political Leadership for years, I will also freely admit to seeing the point in the main anti – EU argument.
The basic underlying sentiment expressed by nationalist parties, Eurosceptics, and those against an expansion of the European Union is that most problems are best solved locally. This concerns the ‘power distance’ between politicians and the citizens they represent –low power distance being a short distance between, high power distance being a long distance between. When you as a citizen have to shout all the way up the ivory tower that is the EU, along with losing your voice, the high power distance causes you to lose belief in the point of shouting up the tower.
With a strong historical precedent, the nations in Europe have more local ingrained systems of functioning and norms than most of its global counterparts, including the United States. It is in European culture that communities care for each other, that the local municipality where you live has an intricate role in your life, and since the establishment of democratic as well as social welfare principles, European society has more sentiments of equality than anywhere else. The farmer next door becomes your parliamentarian, while still being the farmer next door. Europe is a place where the child of an illiterate factory worker truly has the equal opportunity to a University education as the child of a doctor. The distance between Europeans at the national level in the modern day, concerning power, is remarkably low. Key word here – national.
The European Union is something that is politically the first of its kind, despite all comparisons periodically made. If government is to be viewed as a tower, the tower that is the European Union is an ivory tower scraping the clouds. Which makes power distance high and accessibility to political leaders in this tower extremely difficult. While citizens may know who their national representatives are, it is uncommon that European citizens are familiar with who represents them at the European level. And if they do know of them, it becomes a hushed murmur when a European politician appears from the ivory tower, or shouts of bottled up anger. While I personally know that European politicians are fighting every day for constituents, for most this seems an idealistic yet unbelievable notion. How can the people trust European politicians to fix problems when citizens view EU politicians as so far away?
When the cumulative national populations are used to leaders being renown for approachability, casual conditions, and a ‘closeness’ with the people, the styling of European political leadership reduces the amount of surprise incurred with news of growing Euroscepticism. The current reality of the perception of political leadership is that leaders resign themselves to the busy inner tower workings until the European elections force their descent. Is it any wonder that after losing their voice from shouting up to the tower that citizens turn to Eurosceptic leaders who dream of ways to bypass the tower?
European leadership, as I stated before, naturally has a low power distance, this is what the people in the past and today want. Leaders at the European Union level need to strive to maintain this low power distance so that frustrations with European leaders do not continue to mount to a Euroscepticism so great that the EU will topple. Many at the European level, whether they fully realize this or not, are starting to make strides towards addressing the amount of power distance between leaders and citizens. With more online chats through the Webcomm team, the #EUdeb8 social media efforts made with local events and more European politicians utilizing different forms of social media – there are efforts being made. However, leading up the European elections we must seek out politicians who will maintain the national traditions of low power distance despite being in the EU’s tower. The best way for European leaders to defeat Euroscepticism is to earn back the peoples’ trust by decreasing the power distance. After all, what is the point of having a beautiful ivory tower with amazing views if you cannot have a staircase for your fellow citizens to come up for some tea?