Opinion leaders identify seven pillars for ‘better’ EU action

Europe faces some significant challenges, but dismantling the EU is not the answer. [melis/ Shutterstock]

CIVICO-Europa, an informal group set up by opinion leaders and later supported by politicians, presented today (20 March) a manifesto for the future of Europe, based on “doing much better together”, rather than the traditional way of “doing more”.

The 24-page document entitled The European way for a better future was presented as a contribution to the reflection on the future of the EU, and as an attempt to re-invent the link between citizens and their political leaders.

The group, in which former presidents and prime ministers are included, together with MEPs and intellectuals, was formed on 9 May 2016. At that time, as founder Guillaume Klossa said, it was becoming clear that the solutions to the problems of the Union could not come from top down.

Klossa also set up EuropaNova and is a former sherpa to the reflection group on the future of Europe, chaired by former Spanish PM Felipe González, which produced in 2010 a report which was largely ignored by decision makers.

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In November 2016, the initiators met with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk, who encouraged them to table their contribution to the reflection of the future of the EU, with special emphasis on citizen involvement.

As for the future of Europe, CIVICO sees four possible scenarios:

  • Dismantlement, following a Brexit domino effect;
  • Status quo, set to led to a loss of EU influence in the world;
  • A limited new impulse, allowing the EU to keeps its influence in the short term but not in the long term;
  • A new ambition to make Europe a global model of reference, and a truly reorganised democratic, political, economic, industrial, cultural and environmental power in the world.

The CIVICO group, in which not only federalists are included, worked under the assumption that the existing EU treaties are not sufficiently used. Seven “pillars” were identified, as areas where EU added value could impact positively on the lives of EU citizens.

First pillar: Engaging citizens

The group stresses that citizens should “own” the European project. They consider it essential that all citizens acquire sufficient knowledge about the EU and argue in favour of common civic education, that transnational lists be introduced for the European elections and that bottom-up debates would feed into the European policy process. Also, they call on national and European institutions to support a fully pluralistic and sustainable media sector, also as a response to disinformation.

Second pillar: Education and culture

Erasmus for all should be the rule, CIVICO states, arguing that every single young European should be able, already in secondary school, to be able to spend a week abroad, with the aim of gaining a new perspective. Erasmus must be extended to all students, apprentices and young workers, the group insists. Another initiative is the enlarging programmes related to cultural and creative industries, and focus on European co-productions and exchanges. The European Union must invest in language education to enhance multilingualism, CIVICO calls.

Third pillar: Sustainability, innovating quality of life

The group argues that sustainable development and the many interlinked policy areas: environment, energy, housing, transportation, health and sports, food quality, should not be isolated from the normal political agenda. More specifically, in the environmental field, the aim is to dedicate existing and future EU investment programs to energy saving measures and building renovation programs in order to create local jobs, generate cost savings and improving housing quality for consumers. More EU funds need to be channelled for innovative sustainable industrial practices that help European companies to be global front-runners in green and low-carbon development that triggers new jobs.

Fourth pillar: Economy and Industry

The group argues that Europe should dare to develop its own industrial strategy, much better leverage private and public investment. It calls for a major investment focus on key industries of the future and key enabling technologies (KETs), which will create local jobs, favour new services, modernise the EU economies and enhance their competitive advantage. To increase their growth potential, a major step is the achievement of the Single market. The Digital single market and the Energy Union will contribute, but it will be far from sufficient, CIVICO writes. A “common industrial policy” is advocated that should be targeted to areas such as transport, renewable energy, digital skills and platforms, health sector, and cultural and creative industries.

Fifth pillar: Fiscal and Financial

The group advocates that the financial and banking system would re-direct savings to some large, strategic, and European scale investment priorities. It says that stronger capacity is needed for public investment to act as a catalyst of this large scale private investment at both European and national levels. A budget for the Eurozone is considered necessary, to be used for different purposes, from allowing automatic stabilisation in case of asymmetric shocks to refugee integration.

Sixth pillar: Social

New social rights and freedoms must be reinvented to enable all European citizens to cope with change while counting on basic security throughout their lives, CIVICO writes. It adds that the Social Pillar must ensure all those working, whatever kind of job or sector, can count a clear labour contract with fundamental rights as well as access to social protection.

Seventh pillar: Foreign affairs, security and migration

The group argues that in a world of unpredictability and uncertainty, the EU needs to combine soft power to hard power – hard power conditioning the impact of soft power – and achieve consequently a U-turn in Security and Defence. They propose that a Security and Defence Union be established, as well as a robust European Defence Force, as well as a European Defence Fund. On migration, CIVICO proposes an effective European Asylum policy, managed by an agency capable of relocating asylum applicants according to targets.

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Asked by euractiv.com if he could name a few short term measures which could capture public attention, Guillaume Klossa, the CIVICO-Europa initiator, said:

“I can see five actions with symbolic power: Erasmus for high school students, bank account insurance against another financial crisis, audiovisual co-productions competing with Netflix, a strategy for the sustainability of European media, and discussion about artificial intelligence and robots.”

MEP Maria João Rodrigues (S&D group) said that the group aimed at promoting its proposals with the citizens and the media.

Nicolas Schmit, minister of labour, employment and immigration of Luxembourg (from the Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party), who spoke in a personal capacity, regretted that in its recent presentation of the five scenarios for the future of the EU, the Commission took a “very technocratic” approach.

He called the CIVICO paper a “manifesto” to be put to the attention of all citizens and decision-makers.

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