Europe. Is. The. Best.
That, at least, is the humble opinion of the EU’s 27 national leaders and the three presidents of its main institutions in a “Happy Europe Day” video message posted Saturday, marking the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, regarded as the foundation stone of today’s European Union.
The video, organized by European Council President Charles Michel, shows off the leaders’ newfound expertise in tele-working during the age of coronavirus, with each of the 30 sending greetings in their own language. Many recorded their clips with dramatic backdrops that would make professional YouTubers proud, or at least not cringe: from rooftops and balconies overlooking sweeping cityscapes, in gilded offices, beside an array of flags, behind giant wooden desks, or in front of rolling verdant lawns.
On #EuropeDay, let’s never forget…
Europe is YOU, it’s US, it’s all of us TOGETHER. UNITY is what makes us stronger.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) May 9, 2020
But in its own hokey way, the video also gives a glimpse into the breadth of EU leadership, from President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, a 73-year-old grandfather of four, to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, age 34, who has a two-and-a-half year old daughter. The clips shows leaders who have been tested severely by the pandemic in recent weeks, and are now confronting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression — a fact reflected in messages that stressed perseverance.
And in an age of making great places great again, it shows the perhaps quaint possibility that politicians can boast a bit, and actually sound nice at the same time.
“Europe is freedom, tolerance, openness, diversity, respect, innovation, creativity, dynamism,” Michel says, opening the parade of clips. “Europe is also about solidarity and unity.”
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, whose country holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, offered the official “Happy Europe Day” greeting, as well as a proclamation of victory against the coronavirus. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we have come out of this situation stronger,” he said.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa was the first to declare the EU the best.
“It’s the best economic space of shared wealth,” he said.
The video seemed at its most realistic during interludes when it showed a video collage of all the leaders all talking over each other like a gaggle of high-ranking government geese trapped in a Zoom call.
French President Emmanuel Macron, as usual, seemed to be the most animated, his hands chopping and punching the air as he spoke. “To dare, to reinvent, to unite, to think and act for the future,” Macron said, looking, for a moment, as if he might jump off the screen and into your living room. “This is the European spirit that we need today once more.”
Some of the leaders’ messages on Europe reflected the traditions of their countries and political parties. Sweden’s Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said: “I call it the strong societies, with welfare for those who need it, and where every child is given the best possible chance in life.”
Then there was liberal Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who said: “When people ask me what is European cooperation for? I always have a simple answer, for our jobs and for our security.” In other words, Happy Birthday, Europe. Now get back to work.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took a sort of post-modern approach, with a video showing himself on a balcony overlooking Budapest taking a selfie-video with his mobile phone. “If not now when?” Orbán said, quoting the ancient Babylonian rabbi Hillel. “There has never been a greater need for cooperation among European countries.”
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has become well-practiced at delivering video messages during the pandemic, stood by a gently flowing EU flag, and described Europe as a torch passed from generation to generation.
“For me Europe is home,” she said. “For my parents, Europe was peace. For my generation, Europe is freedom and rule of law. And for my children, Europe is future and open-mindedness. This is what I’m fighting for. Long live Europe.”
Some leaders took a bit more credit for Europe’s best-ness than others. “Europa was a Greek goddess,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “She continues to guide us as she travels through our countries, protecting our Continent.”
Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovič was perhaps the most realistic. ‘The EU can sometimes be a bit tedious or complicated, but at the same time it makes us feel safe and secure.”
But it was Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who seemed to sum up the overarching message. “Europe is the best place to live,” he said. “The best place for democracy, solidarity and people’s rights.”