EU ‘wise men’ group hesitates to go public

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The reflection group established by EU leaders to ponder the Union’s future is yet to decide whether it will do its work behind closed doors or “go public” by asking for contributions via the Internet, the group’s president, Felipe Gonzalez, said yesterday (21 January).

Gonzalez, a prominent former Spanish statesman, was grilled by the European Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, with most MEPs urging him to consult with European citizens as a way of regaining their trust in the European project. 

MEPs also advised him to maintain close contact with the EU institutions, and the Parliament in particular. 

Speaking in Spanish and insisting that he was only presenting his personal views, Gonzalez explained that the group had only held one meeting so far and was still “in doubt” as to whether its work should be “not secret, but discreet”, or rather “open to the entirity of society in an interactive way”. 

“Part of this doubt has already been resolved, in the sense that we want to have a dialogue with the institutions, with the Commission, and especially with the Parliament, as a means of having a dialogue with citizens [representatives],” he said. 

Gonzalez also said the “wise men” group will try to answer two big questions: how the Union can gain in relevance for its citizens, and for the rest of the world. 

He said he had proposed a number of priorities, which he outlined as follows: 

  • How to maintain Europe’s model of social cohesion in the 21st century, based on the Lisbon agenda, the results of which he called “unsatisfactory”; 
  • Energy and climate change, which in his view requires a “revolution” in the use of energy sources. He also spoke strongly in favour of nuclear energy; 
  • Migration flows, in the perspective of answering the demographic needs of the ‘Old Continent’; 
  • Responding to the challenges of terrorism and organised crime; 
  • Responding to challenges stemming from conflict zones and failed states. In this respect, he mentioned the Caucasus and possible conflict scenarios should Ukraine denies Russia a renewal of its rental contract for the Black Sea port of Sebastopol, which expires in 2017. 

Gonzalez said his group will also offer advice on how to best take advantage of the new US administration, and will ponder notions of European identity and European values. 

The reflection group president also spoke out strongly against the former US administration’s plans to deploy a missile shield in European countries, saying he has personally never believed that such a project is intended to combat missiles from Iran. He said it would be a strategic mistake to push Russia towards a new cold war. 

With respect to the recent Georgia and gas crises, he said “the evil Soviet gerontocracy was at least predictable”. He called the present situation “worrying enough”. 

Felipe Gonzalez also said those who do not want to be in Europe should be able to leave it. But he added: “Those countries which joined with hesitation know that it’s colder outside.” 

Background

The European Council of 14 December 2007 decided to establish a "reflection group" of no more than nine people, selected from across the Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues which the Union is likely to face in the future and how these might be addressed. 

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez was named chair of the group, while Vaira Vi?e-Freiberga, a former president of Latvia, and Jorma Ollila, former CEO of Nokia, were named vice-chairs. 

At the 15-16 October 2008 EU summit, it was decided that the group would consist of 12 men instead of nine (EURACTIV 14/10/08). The other members of the group include: 

  • Lech Wa??sa, the historic leader of the Polish anti-communist movement 'Solidarno??' and a former Polish president; 
  • Mario Monti, a former Italian competition commissioner; 
  • Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry and former editor of the Financial Times; 
  • Lykke Friis of the University of Copenhagen; 
  • Nicolas Notat, French former leader of the CFDT trade union; 
  • Wolfgang Schuster, German conservative and mayor of Stuttgart; 
  • Rainer Muenz, an Austrian economist; 
  • Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect, and; 
  • Kalypso Nicolaidis, a Greek professor. 

The group's secretary general is Dr. Ziga Turk of Slovenia, who keeps an online diary on Blogactiv. 

Further Reading

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