González, who is an iconic figure of the successful integration of his native Spain into the European Communities, was invited to speak at their dinner on 25 March in an effort to lend coherence to the 'Europe 2020' strategy and reflections on the longer term (2020-2030), diplomats told EurActiv.
González said he had warned leaders that the European Union was in a state of "emergency" due to the persistence of the economic crisis and its effects on Europe's economy and social life. He said the highest priority would be growth and job creation.
The former prime minister insisted that the Union should take the lead in a situation where some member states had exhausted their room for manoeuvre.
González advised leaders to link anti-crisis measures to medium- and long-term structural reforms. He also spoke of the dire consequences of failing to act, warning that this was the last time that the EU and the USA could engage in a rescue effort involving the mobilisation of around 20 to 30% of their GDP.
European governance should be something more than the Stability and Growth pact, he said.
Prime ministers to assume responsibility for economic governance
Asked to deliver González's main message, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said the main economic governance idea presented by the head of the Reflection Group was that the European Council, consisting of the prime ministers and in some cases the presidents of EU countries, should assume more leadership in economic policy matters.
Zapatero said the European Council should bear more responsibility in economic matters, and have "more capacity to engage in decision-making, to be able to coordinate economic policy".
At the same time, the role of the Commission should be maintained, which in the Spanish premier's words was of "fundamental" importance, especially its right of initiative.
"The Community method is one which guarantees the progress of Europe," Zapatero said.
The balance between the institutions, he added, lies with the Council president, a position which is "continuous, sustained [and] at a superior level" compared to the responsibility of individual countries' heads of government".
"We are moving already towards its goal with Herman van Rompuy as Council president," the Spanish prime minister said.
González's participation in the summit appears to be the second attempt to integrate the work of the secretive Reflection Group into the agenda of the Spanish EU Presidency. In January, Zapatero hosted a meeting with prominent EU 'wise men' in Madrid, attended by González, former European Commission President Jacques Delors and former Spanish Commissioner Pedro Solbes (EurActiv 06/01/10).
On that occasion too, the accent was that Europe's "economic governance" should be strengthened with a view to improving the competitiveness of the 'old continent' vis-à-vis players such as China, India or Brazil.