The EU needs a fresh boost… fast!

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

A demonstrator at a pro-euro rally in Brussels. [Rock Cohen/Flickr]

The European authorities appointed in the wake of the 2014 elections have an historic, not to say overwhelming, task ahead of them, write Jacques Delors, Pascal Lamy, and António Vitorino.

Jacques Delors is a French economist and politician, and former President of the European Commission.

Pascal Lamy is a French political advisor and businessman, and former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

António Vitorino is a Portuguese politician and member of the Socialist Party.

Faced with the pressure being brought to bear by Eurosceptics and Europhobes alike, it falls to them to urgently impart a fresh thrust to the construction of Europe – a process which may be the target of greater criticism than ever before but which continues to be crucial in a world where globalisation is advancing and Europe is shrinking and growing old. 

The Europeans will find the fuel to impart this new boost to their construction process primarily by casting their gaze over the world at large far more than they have done during the endless and devastating crisis in the euro area.  Seen from Beijing, from Brasilia or from Bamako, we are already united around the will to reconcile economic efficiency, social cohesion and environmental safeguards in a pluralistic framework. We must unite further in order to promote this common will, along with our interests and our values, in an increasingly less Eurocentric world through the adoption of more consistent trade and external aid policies, through the creation of a genuine energy union, and through the patient bolstering of our common foreign and defence policy, because strength lies in numbers!  This Union naturally needs the United Kingdom – but only as long a majority of its citizens still wish to be a part of it, because the Union is by no means a prison! It is going to expand after 2020 to embrace other neighbouring countries, essentially in the Balkans, but its priority in the short term is for all 28 of its current member states to move forward simultaneously and in the context of the euro area, in order to rediscover the kind of growth and employment levels capable of reviving both its dynamism on the internal level and its credibility in the external arena.

Imparting a fresh thrust to the EU includes making better use of the opportunities that it offers as a space for economic and human exchange and as a public power. Even if the nation states continue to be the masters of their major choices in the economic, educational and social spheres, emerging from the crisis also involves Europe!  We must deepen the single market in the sphere of the service industry, of the digital economy, of capital markets and of major infrastructures in order to foster a more quality-based growth and more jobs. And we must emerge once and for all from the lethal competition besetting the social and fiscal spheres.  We must safeguard and promote the free movement of workers and of people, on which millions of jobs depend, in compliance with the principle of non-discrimination, and we must complete this free movement system with a common, solidarity-based immigration policy.  We must spend and invest more together, including by displaying vigorous support for the plan proposed by the Juncker Commission, for all its limitations, and by calling on the member states and on private players to match that plan with their own investments to a far greater degree. We must act together in the struggle against youth unemployment and we must avert the threat of a lost generation. We must complete the Economic and Monetary Union by complying with the major principles and regulations on which that union is based, in particular with regard to monitoring excessive indebtment (rather than indebtment itself), while at the same time endowing it with the political tools required to bolster its legitimacy and the financial tools needed for stabilisation and for aid with reforms, so as to avert any chance of a return to the IMF-Europe of the past few years.

Many Europeans have experienced this “IMF-Europe” as a threat, because it has been a purveyor of aid pegged to painful and unfair budget cuts and reforms.  People too often forget that it has had the merit of organising that solidarity among member states that had been called into question on more than one occasion. Imparting a fresh thrust to the construction of Europe also means allowing Europe to be perceived not as a threat but as an answer to the threats and challenges fueling people’s fears while at the same time actually strengthening the benefits to be gained from uniting. Those benefits include:  the showdown with Vladimir Putin and the instability besetting numerous neighbouring countries that we need to support in their struggle (in Ukraine, but also in Tunisia); the existence of terrorist hotbeds in the Sahel and in the Near East; the ravages of “mad” finance and of unbridled tax optimisation; the spectres of deflation and of de-industrialisation; the risks occasioned by a changing climate and by our dependence on external energy sources…  Europe’s new decison-makers may give in to the easy temptation to restrict the production of misunderstood and ridiculed environmental or health measures whose technical virtue is frequently less than the political damage that they cause.  But at the end of the day, it is on their ability to respond effectively to the main threats and challenges which the Europeans are having to face that they are going to be judged at the end of their mandates.

The Community adventure was launched over sixty years ago to stimulate our reconstruction and to forge a space for peace and for mutual respect in the face of a divided Europe. It needs to prove today, more than ever before in its history, that it has the dual ability both to stimulate and to protect the citizens whom it is called on to serve over the coming years – years which look set to be of crucial importance.  Ladies and gentlemen in charge of the European institutions, time is of the essence!

European Steering Committee

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