Two European worlds met at the Festival d’Europa in Florence, which was held from 6 to 10 May. On the Piazza della Signoria, thousands of mostly young visitors wandered among the stands manned by the European Commission, as well as the European parliament and a number of member states, to read, listen and learn about the Union which had assumed a festive air for the occasion.

Behind the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio, which houses the city’s local government, a more well-informed public listened to presentations made by political and economic leaders as well as other experts at the "State of the Union" colloquium, which candidly addressed the many challenges that Europe currently faces.

How are we to develop the connection between these European worlds: between the young people who are aware of Europe’s increasing influence on their daily lives, and the experts that mull over the task of safeguarding Europe’s relevance? There were many answers to this question: European Commissioner for Culture Androula Vassiliou, emphasised the cultural dimension of the construction of Europe. European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek spoke of the critical importance of combining democracy, cooperation and economic growth. Former commissioner Mario Monti spoke in defence of the single market and its role in the common quest for change. Economist André Sapir pointed out that in the wake of the failure of the Lisbon strategy for innovation, the EU was in no position to weather another decade of dwindling competitiveness.

These specialist analyses may appear abstract to the general public, but in the drive to construct Europe, one day they will inevitably have an impact on the lives of ordinary Europeans. This point was further emphasised by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, a member of the ECB’s board of directors, who warned that we could not coldly evaluate the restructuring of Greece’s sovereign debt without taking into account the “catastrophic” consequences that such a decision would have on the well-being of the Greek people.

Europe is a bit like Michelangelo’s David remarked Bini Smaghi — a replica of the statue holds pride of place in front of the Palazzo Vecchio — "She is young and vigourous though somewhat fragile. But she has her eyes fixed on the challenge ahead, and she knows that she can win." There were no national political leaders at the events in Florence, but it would be nonetheless interesting to know what challenges they are focused on today.