The European Union needs Turkey if it is to succeed as a global player, former Commission vice-president Günter Verheugen tells EURACTIV.
Günter Verheugen is a former Commission vice-president and enlargement commissioner. He was a speaker at the Future of Europe Stakeholder Workshop organised by the EURACTIV Foundation on 22 March in Brussels, where he spoke to EURACTIV's Samuel Doveri Vesterbye.
How do you see the future of Europe?
Despite the problems that we have, despite the inefficient crisis management that we have, and despite the lack of support in our societies, European integration must continue.
We are in a changing global environment and I have to say that only a stronger and bigger Europe can cope with the challenges of the future.
First thing that we have to do is prepare an agenda for reform. There is a very broad call for reform of institutions, the functioning of procedures and results. And we should address the reasons why people are dissatisfied or at least uncertain. This can deliver very clear results in order to strengthen public support.
Then as a next step we can discuss the question of further integration. At this junction, I would not say that it’s useful to talk about the next step being political union. It’s too early to talk about the need to have a United States of Europe or a federal state. I don’t see a single European nation prepared to abandon its own statehood in favour of a super state.
But for the time being I think we should organise support for the idea that a stronger Europe in the sense of unity and more areas where can act together. And in the sense of widening, including European countries which are particularly important for our future, in particular Turkey.
Which are the areas that need reform in the EU?
One of the problems is the transfer of sovereignty in a one way direction. The question must be asked and we need to find an answer on whether there are responsibilities, competence and powers which we can give back to member state, at a national, regional or local level.
Number two is the question of regulatory environments that we are creating. President Barroso said a few months ago that less could be more. I fully agree with him. We need more self-restraint. The rule must be that we do at European level, after very tough scrutiny, only what can’t be done at a national or regional level. But it must be a very tough principle.
Number three is the question of targeted spending. I’m not against a strong community budget, but the way we spend it can be improved. If the results are creating disparities then something is obviously wrong.
[A] final point would be more flexibility; taking into account specific interests of member states as far as they do not hamper the general objectives of European integration. There are many things which are harmonised where you can ask the question of whether it’s useful for the functioning of the European market or monetary union.
The overarching issue is the one of democratic structures. The next deepening must be combined with a considerable strengthening of democratic structures. Personally I would go as far as to say that we need a fully-fledged parliamentary system at the EU level. The executive must be the result of parliamentary elections, the commission must be fully accountable to the Parliament and the hierarchy of institutions must be changed in favour of the Parliament.
What’s the importance of Turkey for Europe and enlargement?
In the case of Turkey there is a strategic and economic meaning. Strategically Turkey is the country that can be the mediator between Western democracies and the Islamic world. It can play a very important role in terms of which direction the Arab or Islamic world will develop.
These questions are absolutely crucial for our own future and we cannot do it without Turkey. Economically Turkey is potentially one of the strongest European economies, growing very fast. And Turkey is sitting in a region with a huge potential, meaning that Turkey would not weaken the EU – it would make it stronger.
Without Turkey we can forget our ambition to be a global player in the future.