‘Wise men’ warn EU of gradual decline into irrelevance

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The EU must choose between becoming either a global "agent of change" or preparing "for a managed decline into irrelevance," according to a report from the group of 'wise men' led by senior statesman Felipe González, seen by EURACTIV.

No fatal predictions or cosmic revelations are to be found in the report, due to be handed over by González to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on 8 May, when EU institutions open their doors to citizens for Europe Day.

Its authors (see 'Background') have nevertheless produced a text which represents "both consensus and compromise" and carries clear messages, such as the assertion that the EU stands "at a crucial point of its history".

The EU can be an agent of change in the world rather than a passive witness, the group argues, listing choices to be made today that in their opinion will affect the Union's capacity to act in 2030.

Strengthening economic governance is primary among the report's recommendations. This hardly comes as a surprise, given that González had given his full support to the current Spanish EU Presidency's major objective of reinforcing "European economic government" and improving coordination of the EU's common policies in economic affairs and employment (EURACTIV 04/01/10).

"We need to: include in the Union's convergence criteria measures to correct the losses in competitiveness reflected in balance of payments and current account deficits; adopt instruments for ensuring monetary stability; reform the functioning and supervision of our financial institutions ahead of the G20," the text reads.

The Reflection Group also advocates a highly competitive and sustainable social market economy for the sake of social cohesion and environmental protection. This, in their view, will require an ambitious reform programme and a system of incentives, building on the draft 'Europe 2020' strategy.

Drawing on recent recommendations from former European Commission President Jacques Delors and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (EURACTIV 06/05/10), the Reflection Group stresses the need for the EU to implement a common energy policy. The need to embark on serious discussions about safe nuclear energy is also highlighted.

The group calls on the EU to assume a more assertive role in world affairs. Stopping short of discussing enlargement, the report's summary develops the idea that the wellbeing and security of Europeans are linked to those of their neighbours, with whom closer cooperation is needed.

But none of the objectives listed can be achieved without strengthening the ties that bind the EU to its citizens, the authors of the report write.

Mirroring recent calls for the new European Commission to address the real-life, practical problems faced by European citizens, the Reflection Group stresses that social, civil, family and employment rights should accompany them wherever they move within the EU.

They also argue in favour of better partnerships between different levels of power – national, regional and local, and call for the creation of genuine opportunities for citizens to participate in political life.

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 V??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 people 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, who recently resigned, having been elected as Minister for Climate and Energy of Denmark; 
  • Nicole 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, former minister for competitiveness, who keeps an online diary on Blogactiv.

González is expected to present his team's report to Council President Herman van Rompuy on 8 May (EURACTIV 29/03/10).

Little information, if any, has emerged from the 15 meetings the group has held since its launch in October 2008. Only in the last days, some of its members appeared to break the 'silence oath' (EURACTIV 29/04/10).

  • May: Reflection Group to hold series of debates hosted by think-tanks.
  • 17 June: EU summit to take stock of Reflection Group's report.

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