The European Union needs to strengthen itself internally if it is to become a global power, two former EU commissioners and an ex-president of the European Parliament told a conference in Warsaw. EURACTIV Poland reports.
The debate on the EU’s global influence was inspired by a report, “Towards a Global European Strategy”, published in May as a part of a comprehensive strategic project initiated in mid-2012 by the foreign ministers of Sweden, Spain, Poland and Italy.
The strength of the EU’s external policy is determined by its internal cohesion, said MEP Jerzy Buzek (EPP, Poland), former president of the European Parliament. This is why it is necessary to carry out structural reforms in the member countries that will increase the competitiveness of the European economy, he said.
“A strong economy is of key importance in the perception of the EU in the world,” Buzek said.
In order to boost its internal strength, any restrictions on the free movement of services should be abandoned, said Ryszard Petru, president of the Society of Polish Economists.
Petru said this goal could be achieved by broadening the scope of the Services Directive, which besides the free movement of goods, persons and capital, would allow full freedom of services.
The EU Services Directive (also known as the Bolkestein Directive) has already removed many obstacles to the improved trade in services in the EU internal market, yet more is to be done, he added.
However, that it was the Services Directive that helped fuel negative results in the referendums on the European Constitution in France and in the Netherlands in 2005.
A lot has been done to enhance the coordination of European economies. The European Semester – the budgetary and structural policy coordination mechanism – seems to be a step in the right direction, speakers at the Warsaw conference said.
Polish MEP Danuta Hübner (EPP) argued that EU has in fact “a great potential” to count globally, as the Union had all that is needed to become a global actor. In times of crisis, the EU "it is doing better than the United States", she said.
The former EU commissioner for regional development said that the competitiveness of the European economy was improving and this was illustrated by the growth of exports. Hübner added, however, that Europeans should still remember that the EU represents only 7% of the world’s population and a decreasing share in the global economy.
Ups and downs
Croatia’s accession and the decision on the start of negotiations with Serbia in 2014 shows that despite the Eurozone crisis, the EU is still regarded as a club worth joining.
But according to former enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen, the EU loses its influence in the world every day due to the lack of “sensible leadership”.
Verheugen expressed concern that the world had entered into a period of chaos in international relations, and that chaos was present also inside the EU.
To counter that trend and taking into account the shift of global power from West to East and from North to South in the coming decades, it is essential to strengthen the transatlantic link by agreeing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Verheugen was backed by Hübner, who believes that TTIP may increase the importance of the West on a global scale, and may be the beginning of an actual implementation of global standards in international trade.
However, speakers noted that the alleged US surveillance of the EU had complicated the start of the negotiation of the TTIP.
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Maciej Popowski, a career Polish diplomat who is a deputy to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, noted that external affairs cannot be separated from other EU activities. As an example, he cited the antitrust proceedings against Gazprom, which had important implications for the EU's foreign policy. Foreign policy starts at home, he said.
While the EU has concentrated on internal issues such as youth joblessness and a banking union to strengthen itself from within, what needs to be pondered during the next EU summit in December is how not only think strategically but also how to act so, Popowski said.