For its 71st annual congress the French institute of professional accountants (Ordre des Experts-Comptables – OEC) moved to Brussels for its first congress outside France.
This was OEC’s president Philippe Arraou’s idea and his ultimate initiative during a two-year presidency focused on injecting international aspirations into a profession often too traditionalist, conservative and slightly outdated.
I need to declare a bias; I’m a firm believer in the European Union project. Nevertheless, like most believers, I face my moments of doubt: has the project failed? Has the EU become a machinery of bureaucracy, of which nothing good comes out?
Therefore it was, on a personal level, an extremely refreshing experience to attend the congress. Listening to MEPs such as Guy Verhofstadt or Sylvie Goulard, or EU staff such as Olivier Guersent (director general of the DG FISMA), I came the realisation that the EU wasn’t broken, but what is broken is the connection between the institutions and the citizens.
Of course the EU institutions face tremendous challenges, as Goulard expressed in the opening session of the congress (Page 4), but a lot comes out of Brussels and Strasbourg which doesn’t make it to the member states’ national media, giving a false impression that nothing gets done at EU level.
Verhofstadt was right to emphasise to French accountants: “All European citizens would gain from coming to Brussels and seeing closely the institutions. Demystify Brussels; better understand how the European Union works. And of course feed the European decision-makers with concrete ideas coming from experience in the field.” (Page 4)
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Nevertheless Euroscepticism runs deep in today’s world. And those who made the trip to Brussels were quick to note that many others didn’t come. The 71st congress hosted 5,000 delegates of which 1,600 were Belgian. Many said the number of French delegates was too low compared to previous years – an argument quickly dismissed by Arraou (page 24-25).
Clearly the outcome of the first European or international congress didn’t meet unanimous approval from the delegates. Some, of course, were convinced and full of praise for the initiative. Other spiteful tongues saw in the low attendance figures a sign that the French profession wasn’t ready yet to open up to the world.
Even so The Accountant would like to offer kudos to Arraou for his call for internationalism and kudos to those who answered it – even the critics. Because surely those who were at the congress in October convinced or reticent saw a EU that is still very much alive, very much aware of its challenges and issues, and full of faith for the future.
The task will not be easy, but European parliamentarians who don’t often step into the limelight showed dynamism. And they made it clear to the French accountants: the Union doesn’t lie after all in the EU institutions, but in those that make it live: its citizens, its goods, its services and its capital.
The French profession coming out of its 71st Congress should be well inspired to make the Union live and not to succumb to the current wave of parochialism.