Europe at the turning point

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Digital Summit for Growth.

Europe is at a turning point as fewer than a third of people in France trust the EU, according to a eurobarometer poll. So Europe's leaders have to work together to shape a Europe that delivers for its citizens and this week's summit represents a chance to sweep away bureaucracy and move ahead on the digital economy, writes David Lidington.

David Lidington is the UK Minister for Europe

“Anyone who has worked in politics for any length of time learns to take statistics with a pinch of salt. But sometimes the figures tell a story so compelling that people have to sit up and take notice.

Across Europe, politicians are waking up to a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Fewer than one in three people say they trust the European Union. Last week I was in France, where Eurobarometer has found that over half of the population feel the EU is not hearing their voice. President Hollande himself has warned that the European Parliament could become paralysed after next May’s parliamentary elections.

After five years of economic crisis, with millions of young men and women unemployed, people in every European country are impatient to see progress on what matters to them most – growth and jobs.

Europe is at a turning point. Last month, European Commission President Barroso said that there was no return to the old normal. Europe’s leaders have to work together to shape the new normal – a Europe that delivers for its citizens.

The UK is already working with allies to make Europe more open, more competitive, more flexible and more democratically accountable.

Sometimes, the benefits of this are not immediately quantifiable – getting the balance right between action in Brussels where necessary, and action at national level where possible, for example.

Sometimes the benefits are directly quantifiable.

We are now in the process of deepening our commercial ties with the world’s three largest economies – the USA, China and Japan; with Canada, a G8 member; and with fast-growing countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Canada estimates that the Canada-EU trade agreement secured last week will boost its economy with 80,000 Canadian jobs; the EU economy is expected to benefit by €9.3 billion a year. The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership with the USA will deliver even greater rewards if we can achieve an ambitious deal.

With 90% of world growth coming from outside Europe’s borders in the coming years, we must work fast to complete and consolidate these deals. They are effective, as the trade deal with Korea has shown. Europe now has a trade surplus with Korea for the first time in 15 years.

And we must also look at new ways in which we can help business to generate growth, which is why I welcome the work that the Commission has done to date on its REFIT agenda, reducing the regulatory burden on firms.

We need to go further and faster on regulation, responding to the voice of business.

Last week, six senior business leaders presented a report to Prime Minister David Cameron based on suggestions from businesses and business groups across Europe about how to improve the regulatory environment. This matters in particular for the small and medium-sized firms that generate 80% of all new jobs.

This report gives concrete suggestions about how European Governments and Brussels can take action to promote jobs and growth, without recourse to taxpayers. At the European Council this Thursday the Prime Minister will be calling for a clear commitment to sweep away unnecessary bureaucratic barriers.

At this week’s Council we will also have a chance to move forward on the digital economy.  The European Policy Centre found that development of the Digital Single Market by 2020 could result in a 4% increase in GDP in the EU.

When you look at the figures, what we see clearly is that across the continent people are unhappy with Europe as it is now.  

That’s why in the UK we have charted a course of positive reform that can deliver pragmatic, tangible and quantifiable benefits to our citizens.

We are working with allies to shape this new Europe, and this week’s Council is an opportunity to make real progress.”

Governments

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