What are we afraid of losing by saving Europe?

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

The EU is in need of further integration in order to face the challenges posed by the financial crisis and act with a sense of solidarity and common responsibility, says Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Staffan Nilsson is the president of the Economic and Social Committee. His comment was first published here.

"After the last European Council of 8 and 9 December, the heads of state or government went home to talk to their parliaments. David Cameron told the British House of Commons that he had gone to Brussels with only one intention – "to defend our own interests." But where, I wonder, were our common interests?  Where was the European interest, where were the European objectives, the drive to find solutions to overcome the crisis together?

The Swedish prime minister will also take the matter to the parliament, but he was at a loss to know how to proceed. Last week's Council talks and decisions and the national debates that followed have revealed a number of fears that appear to be underpinning the approach of certain member states to EU governance. What are we actually afraid of losing by saving Europe …?

If it is a fear of playing the game of real subsidiarity, then the financial and the euro crisis have helped us realise that governments can no longer act independently and that the banking system needs tighter discipline. All member states need to do their homework and ensure budgetary and fiscal discipline.

That is why we also need deeper European integration. Europe needs to step up its economic governance if it is to guarantee fiscal discipline in each member state, particularly in the euro area. The agreed reform package, the so-called six-pack, along with the new regulatory proposals and the accompanying European semester for the better coordination of economic and national budget policies, should be implemented both swiftly and effectively.

In addition, there is a need to set regulatory framework conditions so that financial intermediaries fulfil their primary role of serving the real economy, providing credits for real projects, by investing in assets instead of betting on liabilities.

Some political leaders blame Europe for losing wealth while sharing others' debts: I think, however, we have already allayed that fear and we now need to move forward. A new Europe will require a fundamental pooling of our resources and sharing of our responsibilities.

This is much preferable to a situation where individual national governments are no longer able to cope with the pressures of their creditors and private rating agencies. We need a quantum leap in the area of European integration, not only if we are to create debt instruments and a growth model which investors can believe and trust in, but also – and perhaps above all – in order to reassert democratic governance.

Some political propaganda is playing on people's fear of losing national wealth, including jobs and social security: thus the institutional framework for this new Europe must ensure effective representative and participatory forms of accountability towards the citizen.

The biggest challenge for the EU today is the lack of confidence felt by its citizens, not just the markets. Restored consumer and investor confidence are essential for private and public-sector demand. The European Economic and Social Committee has an active role to play in this context, both as a bridge to civil society and as a proponent of innovation and change.

Are we afraid of not doing the right thing for our future generations? Fiscal discipline and a rebalancing of national budgets must go hand-in-hand with long-term European growth strategies. In order to promote growth, Europe must break free of the austerity-growth deadlock. Job creation policies – especially for young people – must be the top political priority.

Growth will only return if competitiveness and innovation can improve. Small- and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurship, as well as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, are the key drivers for a sustainable Europe of the future.

We need to keep a vision for our future together in Europe: we need to act coherently, quickly and with skill to solve the crisis we are going through. The main goal – the European project, together in a union for peace and prosperity – has to be kept alive."

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