To celebrate Women's Day, EURACTIV asked five prominent women to set out their visions for the future of the European Union. Starting with Dalia Grybauskait?, president of Lithuania, these successful professionals are symbols of the economic, political and social achievements of Europe's women.
Solidarity will lead us to prosperity
Dalia Grybauskait?, president of the Republic of Lithuania
"Today is International Women's Day. In three days, on 11 March, Lithuania will celebrate 20 years of independence.
Freedom is the biggest gift the individual can get. For many people it comes on the day they are born. Other people and nations have to fight for it and deserve to be free.
Today, we have a free and democratic state of Lithuania in the European Union – the Community – which despite its diversity is united by commonly-shared values. Today, I am happy we are building a society based on the principles of freedom, democracy and equality of every member of society, equality between men and women.
The EU 2020 Strategy is an ambitious goal of the EU. The aims determined at European level should be reciprocated by very clear commitments and actions by the member states.
Our ultimate goal is a strong European Union – a dynamic, knowledge-based and competitive economy with sustainable growth, fiscal stability, and more and better jobs. I see a Europe secure internally and externally, built on the principle of solidarity.
The EU member states have to assume political responsibility in implementing the EU 2020 strategy. The successful results of the programme depend on joint action by the EU institutions, political leaders, member states and people. Lithuania is fully committed to contributing towards creating a prosperous and strong community of European nations.
Despite the efforts and progress made over the years, there are still examples of women's inequality. The world of politics, business and scientific progress is traditionally dominated by males.
In the 21st century, we have many active, educated and successful women. Their achievements in professional as well as in social fields contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the European Union. I wish for women to realise their ambitions, to be active, competent, dynamic and competitive members of European society, to achieve successful results on national and European levels as well as beyond the borders of the EU.
I wish for European women to strengthen their influence, be actively involved in the decision-making process and take a leading role in forming global opinion and necessary change."
EU global role at reach only if leaders scrap internal divisions
Brigita Schmögnerova, vice-president, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
"At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, Europe is at several crossroads. Realistically, it will not move away from these crossroads until 2020 and will in some areas remain stuck.
The EU's first crossroads is thus: either it will succeed in regaining people's hearts and gather internal strength as a result, or it will lose relevance for its citizens. Low voter turnout, the dominance of local and national issues and far-right party gains in the 2009 European Parliament elections signal a growing scepticism towards the EU.
In order to move in the right direction, the EU must focus much more on issues that matter to its people: employment, healthcare and education – which are high priorities in all member states – and illegal migration, climate change, environment and financial regulation, which are more important in the EU-15 (the pre-enlargement countries).
Many of these issues are in the hands of national governments, but coordination among the member states should play a more dominant role and minimum standards have to be agreed and achieved in all countries.
The EU's second crossroads is as follows: either it will regain its openness to further enlargements, or there will be no significant accessions before 2020. Growing hostility towards further expansion is partly attributed to the economic downturn. Hopefully, this trend will be reversed and more enthusiasm for EU enlargement will be generated once the crisis has passed.
This is the EU's third crossroads: either the EU will manage to regain importance as a player in the world economy, climate change negotiations and global security, or it will be marginalised and paralysed by a power shift towards the G2 (the United States and China) and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
The EU cannot shape global governance when it is divided on key issues and its decision-making ineffective. Europe remains attractive in many areas: its environmental, social and political model guaranteeing peace, democracy and prosperity; its commitment to fighting climate change and eradicating global poverty; its soft power, etc. However, its leaders must make the right decisions to give the EU more relevance – both internally and globally – and time is running short."
Energy and enthusiasm will avoid marginalisation
Danuta Hübner, former European commissioner and current member of the European Parliament; present chair of Parliament's regional development committee
"I believe Europe should be more local. Generally speaking, citizens are more prone to get information about European issues from their local authorities and institutions, which can be found just round the corner, than calling Brussels. Therefore everything possible should be done to get Europe closer to the citizens and in my opinion the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon is a step forward in that direction.
The debate on the new strategy, dubbed EU 2020, a new vision of the development of the European Union in the next ten years, has just begun. I truly hope that the new strategy will be adopted during the June summit in Brussels. It is a very important document. We very much need a programme. That could attract all our attention and effort.
One should bear in mind, however, that the goals included in the new strategy, namely the building of the knowledge-based economy, enhancement of competitiveness and innovative technologies, sustainable development, as well as investment in human capital, increase of qualifications and social cohesion, are all already familiar to us. They have been defined as long-standing priorities of European regional policy for quite some time now.
Most importantly, I cherish a deep hope that the new EU 2020 strategy will be implemented with the wide participation of European citizens.
The Treaty of Lisbon confirms that Europe cannot be limited to the European institutions alone. Europe is nowadays the property of its regions, cities and citizens and our job, as European policymakers, is to raise their feeling of responsibility for the new strategy.
In our current fast-changing world, a lot of energy and enthusiasm is needed in order to avoid marginalisation. Europe represents today 7% of the world's population but in a few years it will be much less. The potential of every one of us is thus very much needed to make the new Europe 2020 strategy work."
Children are our future
Anna Záborská, member of the European Parliament, head of the Slovak delegation in the European People's Party (EPP) group
"By 2020 many things in Europe will change and many events will come to pass. However, I would like to see an individual behind all of them. An individual, who was once a child. This child lived in a specific environment, which has shaped him and prepared him for life.
Childhood is key for all without exception, regardless of the meaning he or she attributes to it. Despite all the pseudo-modern trends and theories about freeing the individual, about freeing a woman, about de-fragmentation of family into separate components, it is still true that the ideal model is a functioning family. The best condition for living a happy childhood and for smooth and harmonious development of an individual is family formed by mother and father, who live in harmonious matrimony. Every child should have a chance to live a childhood where neither the mother nor the father are missing.
I dream of a Europe where every child would have its home, its parents, even siblings and grandparents. I dream of a society where a woman can accomplish her mission as a mother with dignity. I dream of politics and the economy taking the everyday needs of a mother into account.
The Lisbon Strategy failed to achieve this. Now again, the EU 2020 strategy comes up with financial matters, and foreign and environmental policy. Yet, I dream of politics taking the entire human being into account. Politicians themselves have to realise that the security stemming from the family, an upbringing and education give a child the basis to become a full human being with an integral personality that is an asset for society.
All of the most sophisticated technologies will be useless if we fail to look after our children. We have thousands of couples in Slovakia who long for a baby without success. At the same time there are many children who do not have a family.
Thousands of Slovak women today, in the 21st century, face a dilemma over whether they can take care of their children from the earliest days or whether they will have to return to work pushed by financial needs.
Thousands of young women can't find a job because they have small children, who are seen as a potential risk for the employer. Thousands of young women struggle with obstacles to balance their studies or carriers with pregnancy and bearing a child. Hundreds of thousands of women – mothers – expect society to be appreciative of their role, also in financial terms.
I dream of a Europe that supports maternity and fatherhood and does not create financial, legislative and administrative barriers to the families, for the happiness of its children. I dream of a Europe where children will live a childhood full of love and joy. A childhood which prepares them for a responsible and happy life.
It may not come true completely, but this is my dream."
Our survival based on balancing sustainable development
Ursula Engelen-Kefer, former deputy chair of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), currently a professor and lecturer
"The European Union should be developed continuously, both in its width and its depth.
Policies of peace, economic development and recovery, environmental preservation and social cohesion should all be pursued with unity and a global perspective.
The EU is the most important bastion against a repeat of the fatal wars of the last century.
The concept of the welfare state – with its differing characteristics across the EU member states – should be developed in the process of European integration. This is an important precondition for the future, as showed drastically by the global financial and economic crises.
Our survival is dependent on our ability to maintain a balance between economic and social development on one side and the environment on the other."
[These contributions represent the authors' personal opinion]