The new European Dream

Marie Ekeland
6 min readJan 12, 2019
Fontana di Trevi, Roma, March 23rd, 2017

This is a transcript of the speech I delivered in Roma on March 23rd 2017, at the closing dinner of the EU #digitalday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Rome treaty. The dinner was chaired by the Maltese Presidency of the European Union and Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission.

Sigurd Ekeland or the initial European dream

The European dream has a long tradition in my family. It started with my grand-father Sigurd Ekeland, who was born in Ålesund, a small fishermen town in Norway. At age 17, he went to Rouen, in Normandy, to continue his studies. It was in 1938 and, needless to say, he stayed longer than he had expected. He lived in France throughout World War II, becoming an adult, a husband and a father; he came back to Norway in 1945 only, together with his French wife & baby boy. He had turned into a true European believer, and dedicated his life to diplomacy. His last fight was in 1972 to try to convince the Norwegian people to integrate the European Union. As other EU pioneers, he dreamt of a Union that would reconstruct destroyed European cities, infrastructures & economies and maintain peace in the continent. To my grandfather’s disappointment, Norway eventually did not join. Europe was nevertheless successful in rebuilding a solid economy, restoring growth & peace for sixty years, and I’m sure my grandfather would be proud of seeing the original mission of the EU accomplished.

From our window: the need to change

However, for my generation and the younger ones, which have never experienced war and have lost sight of where Europe was coming from, this is not our first thought when we think of the European Union’s achievements.

What we see is that peace, which used to be a given, is again at risk: war is at our boundaries, terrorism within our nations. We can feel deeply in our hearts that we collectively need to redefine what peace means. It is not strictly about avoiding armed conflicts anymore, it is about sharing a sense of community within societies, fostered by education & maintained by fairness. Fairness within societies, across countries and across generations. We know that there will be no peace without sustainable justice and proper management of our remaining natural resources worldwide.

What we also see is that the historical growth model has gone astray: wealth has rarely been so unequally distributed, property & capital are being more rewarded than work. The rich are becoming richer while the rest of the society stagnates and public services and environmental capital decrease. We are losing the meaning of what it is to be a society, and even more to be a society looking at the future with hope: we are focusing on increasing individual material goods instead of our education, health, living conditions & environment. Optimizing GDP together has never made me feel closer to another human being, and is certainly not at the heart of my definition of what it means to be European.

The last thing my generation acknowledges is that digital economy is not a sector, but a complete transformation of the economy. It first disrupted sectors like media or retail which were easy to disintermediate or re-intermediate but is now reaching its second phase of transformation, attacking all other industries: transportation, education, healthcare… This global disruption calls for a new European economic reconstruction and more largely of a redefinition of the European Union’s mission. It is not about building a bigger economy and restoring property & peace anymore. It is now about building a better & sustainable world and restoring solidarity & justice.

European DNA, the first brick to build on

The good news is that there is a strong DNA on which we could build these new economy & European Union on.

Digital economy is an economy of usages which reaches out directly to people in their private or professional lives. Therefore clustering successful digital champions is very revealing of the DNA of the society that bared them. For example, when looking at US digital champions like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Oculus, Palantir, Salesforce, Snap or Uber, 3 pillars stand out which give us great hints about the DNA of the US society around productivity, empowerment & entertainment:

  • productivity: US startups have developed the best solutions & services to bring optimized performance to organizations as well as individuals in their professional or daily life. They aim for ever greater productivity.
  • empowerment: with a very entrepreneurial spirit, a culture of pioneers and self-made men, Americans are world experts in self-expression & defence, as well as social media presence, job liquidity & time optimization.
  • entertainment: with Hollywood as alma mater of a whole ecosystem, the US has created a world leading entertainment industry of big medias and innovative content, from animation to virtual reality.

Applying the same approach to understand the DNA of European societies leads to very different results. Indeed, when looking at BlaBlaCar, Booking, Criteo, Farfetch, Minecraft, Skype, Spotify or Transferwise, 3 other pillars stand out around collectiveness, quality of life & inventiveness:

  • collectiveness: with quality infrastructures, an inclusive way of designing education, healthcare, finance or insurance services, as well as their growing usage of sharing economy, European societies have a deep sense of collectiveness.
  • quality of life: life/work balance at heart, Europe has developed industries like tourism, culture, leisure, food, a certain « art de vivre » or « dolce vita » … as well as a greater sense around privacy & wellness.
  • inventiveness: creativity is Queen in Europe as its leadership in the fashion or luxury industries and in craftsmanship witnesses; but this creativity is also technical with strong engineering skills & savoir-faire, and a tradition of invention.

Understanding who we are and what brings us together by expressing our DNA & values is as important as resetting our mission to pursue a common European dream. But we also need to ask ourselves how to execute this mission in the most efficient way.

Making it happen: the European Union back in startup mode

In today’s format, achieving European Union’s new mission of building a better & sustainable world and restoring solidarity & justice is close to mission impossible.

First because, since EU was built around economic goals, today’s EU is very far from the people and closer to big economic players. Citizen have little or no say on key decisions, they do not elect decision makers or influence decisions. Worse, when their opinion is stated (as was the case for the Maastricht referendum for example), it is not always followed or valued. Therefore, there is a harmful lack of trust between EU and the European citizen, which strengthens nationalist parties within nations. To restore trust in European institutions, we need to build a true European “citizen-centric” democracy, putting citizens back at the heart of a new EU value proposition, and giving them the power to elect decision-makers. The EU’s mission, values, decisions & actions should be debated and discussed publicly and citizens should not feel excluded or discounted. On the contrary, they should think of themselves as responsible citizens and become active builders on this new democracy.

Second because, in a fast-changing world such as the one we are living in, institutions like the EU are way too heavy to innovate, change, decide & act at the right pace. We need to have European institutions become agile again, restore some areas of experimentation and find ways of setting (or resetting when they fail) action plans or test new policies quickly and lightly.

With 27 countries sharing a common DNA, having overcome so many conflicts and having worked together for the past 60 years, no one is better positioned that the European Union to show how we could solve today’s global challenges around digital transformation, climate change and solidarity. We can find equilibria that no one else can find worldwide.

Let’s become a startup again!

Reset our mission & values. Build a trusted & collaborative citizen-centric democracy with an action-driven execution framework. And try to find the path for a new international sustainable model, driving peace, education, fairness, solidarity and … happiness. Let’s show the path to the rest of the world! We owe it to our grand-parents, to ourselves & to our grand-children. We owe it to the world.