The European Union is an opportunity and a struggle

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jacques Delors

Former president of the European Commission and member of the French Socialist Party [Philippe Grangeaud]

In an op-ed for EURACTIV, Jacques Delors and António Vitorino go back over the EU’s struggles of the past five years – including the euro crisis and Russia – and chart the way forward for the next Commission and Parliament.

Jacques Delors is a former President of the European Commission (1985-1994 ). He is founding president of the Paris-based think tank Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute. António Vitorino is a Portuguese Socialist politician and former EU justice commissioner (1999-2004).

Just like the crisis that has been rocking Europe for the past few years, so the recent Ukrainian crisis, too, reminds us of the extent to which the European Union (EU) continues to be an opportunity, but also a struggle – a struggle in which the people of Europe are urged to take part by voting on 22 and 25 May.

This struggle is directed at overcoming the economic and social crisis which has been caused both by banking and real estate speculation and by the poor management exercised by governments, and which is having a serious impact on a large number of Europeans. While the European Central Bank has responded rapidly to the crisis, the heads of state and government have had to thrash out painful compromises on the basis of a simple principle: the creation of European aid for countries in difficulty, but only in return for increased control over national policies.

The Troika is the most radical embodiment of this compromise, which has led to the EU working alongside, and in the same manner as, the International Monetary Fund to the point where its popularity has sunk to about the same level as that of the IMF… The efforts made by the countries under programme, often excessively painful, have allowed Ireland to escape the crisis and the other countries to come back on the financial markets. The European priority for growth and employment now needs to be strengthened, well beyond the Growth Pact adopted in June 2012. The struggle against mass unemployment must evidently become the leading priority in Europe: if it rests first and foremost on national decisions, it also requires a higher-profile contribution from the EU.

The European struggle against the crisis is also a struggle against the deregulation of the financial markets. The creation of the Monetary Union has protected us against both speculative attacks and competitive devaluation. The banking union, which has recently taken crucial steps forward, is also going to protect us better against the mismanagement of financial institutions, because banks will effectively be subject to increased surveillance under the aegis of the ECB; they (rather than the taxpayer) will also have to pay for their bailouts if such a move proves necessary again in the future. And lastly, the recent agreement on the taxation of savings deserves to be welcomed because, having finally been achieved after six years of intense negotiation, it is going to allow governments to improve their taxation of taxpayers tempted to engage in cross-border tax evasion, and thus to have additional public resources available to them in these difficult times.

Just like the Arab spring, so the Ukrainian crisis, too, primarily highlights the fact that several of our neighbours aspire to enjoy the same economic and political conditions as we do. But it also reminds us that the world’s development is fraught with instability. The national and European authorities have unanimously deplored Russia’s annexation of Crimea; they have adopted both political and financial sanctions (a freeze on assets) against the Russian authorities. They need to maintain their unity towards Vladimir Putin, who can only be effectively kept in check by a united front of European countries acting in conjunction with the United States. In view of this, it goes without saying that the Ukrainian crisis must encourage us to impart a fresh boost to the EU’s common foreign and security policy, but also to bring forward the adoption of a fully-fledged “European energy community” based, in particular, on mechanisms of solidarity among member countries and on decreasing our dependence on our suppliers, especially our Russian suppliers.

It is precisely because the European Union is a struggle that it is important in May to choose the political majority that is going to form the European Parliament for the next five years. These elections will designate MEP’s who will vote for the Commission’s President and will take decisions on major issues, such as environment, energy, agriculture, transports or public health. They are not primarily a vote for or against Europe: above and beyond their systematic criticism of the EU, the parties opposed to the EU formulate no proposals capable of allowing the people of Europe to address the key challenges they face.

Bailing out countries in difficulty, struggling against unbridled finance, and firmness towards Russia: those are three challenges over which the unity of the EU’s member states was far from being a foregone conclusion, but over which it has proved possible to patiently build that unity in the Europeans’ common interest. This unity must not be systematic because member states are free to act as they see fit in numerous areas, and it must go on being rooted in respect for national diversity. But it is more than ever necessary if we are to address the major challenges in the face of which our individual member countries would be sorely at a loss if they tried to act single-handedly.

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