"Would you say that you are optimistic about the future of the European Union?" In October and November of 2009, 58% of Europeans in 30 different countries, who were questioned by Eurobarometer, acknowledged that they were. An even greater majority (75%) were convinced of the need for the EU, which they see as "indispensable in coping with global challenges." However, a hefty 46% of those same Europeans believe that the EU "lacks new ideas and projects," and a dispirited 61% also thought that "in the future, today's children will face a more difficult life than the one we have now."

These contradictory responses outline the portrait of a Europe that has much in common with the protagonist of a Bildungsroman: a heroine full of ambitions and contradictions, who battles with the trails and tribulations of a capricious destiny. In this roman-fleuve, those who look back with contentment on their recent history joyfully adhere to the values of the "extended family." That is the case of the 57% of those questioned who affirm that they have benefited from their country's accession to the EU: the most satisfied being the Spanish, the French, and notwithstanding the current economic crisis — or perhaps because of it — the Irish. However, for other members of the clan (31%) the question of Europe is more likely to prompt a strained smile or even a hostile look, particularly among the Latvians and the British.

The question of who is to blame for these mixed feelings ought to remain a subplot, while the main theme should be the ongoing effort to reinforce the unity of the family. In its failure to respond in a truly collective manner to the 12 January earthquake in Haiti, the EU has missed a major opportunity to address the expectations and doubts of its citizens. But that is not to say that we should abandon all hope in common initiatives. At a time when fears for the future of the European car manufacturing business have highlighted the impact of the economic crisis, there are few doubts about where these are needed: 69% of Europeans believe that the restoration of economic prosperity should be "the main priority for the European Union in the years to come."

Iulia Badéa-Guéritée