Time to stop the tail wagging the dog and talk about the real economy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The ordinary, but useful and important, work of the European institutions is being drowned out by the cries of alarm from the crisis. It is about time to replace the tabloid narrative and highlight the real economy where several hundred million Europeans have jobs and want to create something useful, writes Mark Rogerson.

Mark Rogerson is an independent communications professional based in Brussels.  He has developed and co-ordinated a range of communications programmes for institutional and corporate clients throughout the European Union. He is a former financial and economics reporter for BBC Television.

"When an organisation is faced with a crisis, the textbook response reads that it should do three things: manage the crisis, manage the organisation itself and manage the flow of information. Against that analysis, how is Brussels getting on as the crisis drags on into another summer?

The mere fact that the story has been running for such a long time says a great deal about the EU’s ability, or rather inability, to put in place the structural reforms needed to restore confidence in the European project.  

At least, the most recent EU Summit attracted positive headlines, such as “Breakthrough in Brussels.”  Where there’s life, there’s hope. And as far as managing the organisation is concerned, the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the Parliament all still seem to be keeping calm and carrying on. 

Files move from office to office, committees meet and debates take place. Indeed, short of a direct hit by an asteroid, it’s hard to think of anything that would divert them from the noiseless tenor of their way.

But when it comes to managing the information flow, the picture is rather less tranquil. The Brussels press corps is on permanent crisis alert.  Each succeeding summit has presented an opportunity to dust off the clichés about drinking in the last chance saloon (just how many last chances can a drinker be allowed?). And therein lies the problem.  

The ordinary, but useful and important, work of the EU institutions is being drowned out by the cries of alarm from the crisis. New proposals to help the developing world – yes, but what about the crisis here at home? New proposals to help small businesses – yes, but what about the euro crisis? New proposals to cut youth unemployment – yes, but what about the banking crisis? 

And talking of the financial world, it would seem that we are all suddenly experts on the bond markets. “Spain’s ten-year borrowing costs are trading above the critical 7% level” scream the headlines. But critical according to whom? Critical according to the very people who are betting against it: the bond traders in their dealing rooms.

It’s called a self-fulfilling prophesy – tell everybody who’s daft enough to listen that you think country X is going down the drain. Sell their bonds, watch the rates go up as their prices fall, then buy the bonds back at a cheaper price. Nor should we forget that these clowns are sitting right next to the ones who have been busy rigging the key Libor interest rate so that they can boost their profits even further by cheating on the price of mortgages and several trillion euros worth of other borrowing.

Why on Earth are we letting these champagne-junkies define our narrative? Of course, markets should be free. But markets should also reflect reality. They do not drive reality. Merely because they’re placing bets with someone else’s money, it doesn’t give them the political wisdom of Demosthenes.

The good news is – just at the moment, they’re on the defensive. Each banking scandal reduces further the tattered credibility of the financial sector. So let’s take the opportunity to replace their tabloid narrative by something with a great deal more emotional maturity and some proper content. Let’s talk about the real economy where several hundred million Europeans do have jobs and want to work to create something.  

Let’s talk about the innovative companies that are raising money from families and friends and neighbours to grow and develop, instead of borrowing from the robber-banks on the corner. Let’s talk about the type of future we want for our children. Let’s talk about a Europe where we help people to find jobs and generate growth, rather than betting on failure and celebrating with a bottle of Bollinger.

Let’s agree that the time has come to stop allowing the tail to wag the dog."

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