If theres one thing we can all, perhaps, agree on it is this: We live in messy times. The global order is changing, our societies are becoming more polarized and something should be done about it.
The trouble is no one really knows what to do. Heres one solution: To make space for the new, get rid of the old. If Europe wants to face this new world, what better way than to first put its own house in order?
Call it the Marie Kondo approach to European reforms. Europes house, after all, is cluttered and disorganized — no one can find what they need, and everyones yelling at each other to tidy up.
So lets let go of what we dont need, rearrange what we have and maximize its beneficial use — all in six easy steps, Marie Kondo-style.
1. Commit yourself to tidying up
Any attempt to tidy up — whether it be your house or political institutions — will take longer and be more uncomfortable than you anticipated. (Just remember what happened the last time you tried to alphabetize your CDs, or go through your closet.) Only a strong commitment to see the project through until the end will get you through. The same holds true here: No European-scale reform can be successful without leadership, vision and the backing of everyone involved.
2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle
Have your goal in mind before you start. Reform for reforms sake makes no sense. It needs to be tailored to the result you wish to see. Formulate a vision of where Europe should be in 2030, and then implement the steps to lead you there. Identifying the goal wont mean that it wont be a formidable task, but youll know what all the hard work is for. In our case, thats halting climate change, improving Europes social protections for the old and vulnerable, protecting multilateralism and trade, and stopping populists from overturning our democratic systems. Also on the to-do list: Keep up with the galloping speed of new technologies and future-proof our cyber and defense capabilities.
3. Discard first
Getting your house in order is not just about moving things around; it is chiefly about letting go of things that no longer serve you. In Europe, that might mean an attachment to national prerogatives when it comes to certain policy areas — such as defense, foreign policy or even border control. Or it could mean conflicts we refuse to handle or reforms of international institutions we keep postponing. We might also need to relegate to the dustbin certain procedures weve grown used to, such as consensus-based decision-making, or even political styles that are now old-fashioned. Discarding items does not mean they havent served us well: It simply means their time is up.
4. Tidy by category, not by institution
When you de-clutter your house, the natural instinct is to do this room by room. Marie Kondo takes a different view: Handle all items from one category at the same time, no matter which room theyre in. This applies to Europe, too: Rather than reform by institution, look at every unit, department and institution dealing with a certain aspect of policy — from municipal councils to ministries, from European bodies to regional ones. This way, youve comprehensively reformed an area of responsibility rather than superficially tidied up hierarchical pockets.