Felipe González, chairman of the reflection group on the long-term future of Europe, warned EU leaders attending a 25-26 March summit that worse economic crises lie ahead if the bloc's members fail to coordinate their economic policies. He is due to present his team's report on 9 May, Europe Day, according to sources.
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.
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 European Union is likely to face in the future and how these might be addressed.
Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González 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 Franco-Greek professor at Oxford.
The group's secretary-general is Dr. Žiga Turk of Slovenia, who keeps an online diary on Blogactiv.
- 9 May: Reflection Group's report to be presented.
- El País:Felipe González: "La situación de la UE es de emergencia"
- EuropaPress:Felipe González pide mantener las medidas de estímulo porque "hay bastante crisis por delante"
- EFE agency: Felipe González predice una nueva crisis si no se reforma ya el sistema financiero
- EuropaPress:Los líderes europeos no logran pactar los objetivos de educación y pobreza en la nueva estrategia económica
- EURACTIV Slovakia:González predstaví nápady "múdrych" na De? Európy
- EURACTIV France:Le Groupe de réflexion rendra son rapport pour la Journée de l'Europe