Greece, which will take on the EU's rotating presidency on 1 January, must bring together the best economists in Europe and the world to find a way to combine growth with austerity. We need another ‘Bretton Woods’, says Anna Diamantopoulou.
Anna Diamantopoulou is a former EU commissioner and Greek minister. She is currently president of Diktyo-Network for Reform in Greece and Europe.
She spoke to EurActiv's editor-in-chief Daniela Vincenti, in the marging of the Nouvel Observateur Journées de Bruxelles, of which EurActiv is media partner.
You are participating in this conference on Reinventing Europe. Does Europe need to be reinvented?
Absolutely. We are at a crucial moment of European history and the dilemma is very clear: We have to decide whether we go forward with more Europe, or go back with a notion of just a common market.
Reinventing Europe for me means to organise a kind of federation.
A federal Europe? But do you think the moment is ripe for that, considering the rising euroscepticism across Europe?
I believe that if we wait the proper time, it will never come. People that believe in Europe have to be very outspoken, because for the time being the European politicians in all countries are not courageous enough to speak out about Europe has offered to the people and what Europe would be without the European Union.
Instead of just defending ourselves, against the eurosceptics, the xenophobics, the racists and the other extremists of Europe, we need to come up with a new narrative. We need to explain to people that in this new era of history, where the geopolitical balance is totally different than what we have known so far – especially in regard to emerging powers and the multipolar world – we need to be part of a strong Europe.
There is no European country that can stay alone in this global asset. So, instead of defending, we have to become very aggressive. And explain to people what Europe means or can mean for its citizens.
You talked about courage and narrative. In the last few years we have been fire-fighting the crisis and adapting an institutional structure that was too rigid to cope with new challenges, do you think we can restructure the EU institutions or is there a blockage? How would we overcome it?
There is a blockage and we overcome it. We have not been courageous enough at the national and European level. So far we have selected the leaders of Europe trying to strike the lowest common denominator. We need people who believe that something has to change and this is the only way to overcome the blockage.
This means we need clear goals. All this vague discussion of more Europe, and what does it mean a binding Europe. Then we need to proceed gradually. Then Great Britain does not want. Then Poland has to decide.
We have to decide that if there is a number of countries that want to move forward, they need to be able to do so. I believe the time is now. Towards the European elections the dilemma must be cleared. If we are not going to be clear the European Parliament will be full of Beppe Grillo and Golden Dawn.
Solidarity has clearly been undermined by the crisis. What political narrative is needed to reinvent a new form of solidarity?
I would like to be fair. Many countries have tried to support the countries who have really suffered from the crisis. The major problem is that the institutions of the European Union do not have the structure that they can distribute resources.
We need a new budget. We need to take into account that in the United States the budget from the states is 24% of GDP while in Europe is only 1%. It is incoherent. Secondly, there needs to be a brave European project of public investment – in all kinds of ‘nets’, meaning trains, roads, big infrastructures, in order to give a chance to growth.
Thirdly, we need to establish the banking union. If we do so and have both surveillance mechanism for the banks and guarantee people’s deposits, people would feel they belong to the same family. I don’t consider solidarity as something whereby one gives to the other. What we need is new institutions to distribute power and money, this is solidarity.
In a few months Greece is going to take on the presidency of the EU. What are your expectations? Will Greece regain respect from the rest of the EU?
There is the agenda for the Greek presidency. This agenda has been agreed word by word by the Commission and the Council. This is business as usual. I think that the Greek presidency, which has a lot of experience since it’s its fourth presidency, has to do something quite different.
In the margin of the presidency events, Greece has to organise an international conference with the most distinguished economists to prepare another approach to growth and austerity. I remind you that in the past we have had London Agreement of 1953 for Germany, then we had the Bretton Woods after the war, then we had the Marshall plan. Whenever we had a crisis in the world, we convened the best mind to think up a solution.
We need to bring to Greece the best minds – the Nobel prize winner – to solve the dilemma: How to combine growth with austerity and what Europe needs to do to combine these two. We have not been successful for the time being and things have gone terribly wrong for Greece, Portugal and the South now, but that will happen also to Europe as a whole.
So, to prepare something like the Bretton Woods – come up with a different model for Europe and the world.
Greece is the cradle of European culture, many say. There is a sense, however, that we have created Europe but not Europeans. Is there are a way to create a real sense of belonging to the continent as a whole, rather than to just one country?
For the moment, we have indeed failed. When we talk about culture, I would like to make it more concrete. We need an identity that we belong together. What is the basis of European culture? It’s Ancient Greece, Romans, Christianity, Renaissance and so on: all this created the principles and values that are in the treaty and are part of the culture in all European countries.
Now we have to create the identity. If we don’t have common curricula in all schools across Europe that young people grow up learning the same European history and what it means to be part of Europe, in contrast to being an American or Asian, we will not create that identity.
We need to start from the educational system. For the time being there is such a resistance to start from the schools.
After serving as a commissioner for five years, you have gone back to Greece. What does Europe look like from Athens?
Since enlargement, the European institutions have become more bureaucratic. The Commissioners have become more like director-generals than politicians. So we cannot proceed with the reinvention of Europe, without real politicians that believe and have a vision on what we do. This is why it is very important that in this federation we try to create that the Commission and other institutions will have the appropriate people.
If we want to ‘sell’ the European Union to our citizens we need to be aggressive and explain the cost of non Europe—what it means for the Germans, the French and even for the British.
But if we continue with business as usual and with this notion of intergovernmentalism, rather communitarian method, there is no future at all and we will see the collapse of the Union in a just a few years, because we are reaching a different speed now.