Promoting European construction on the basis of clear alternatives

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

The European elections on 22 to 25 May 2014 are an event whose importance is in strict proportion to the multifaceted crisis currently affecting the construction of Europe. This great democratic rendezvous must prompt us to address three complementary political challenges, write Jacques Delors, António Vitorino and others.

This opinion is based on the final declaration of the Notre Europe-Jacques Delors Institute's steering committee, from the end of November 2013. The full list of signatories can be found below.

How can we address the three key political challenges? By formulating proposals designed to underscore the significance of the European Union (EU), to complete the euro area and to fuel an open and determined political debate.

Making 'Greater Europe' positive again

The excessive amount of attention recently drawn by the crisis in the euro area must not allow us to forget that the upcoming European elections concern “Greater Europe” (i.e. the 28-strong European Union).

"Greater Europe" is the proper scale today, more than it has ever been in the past, to reaffirm the EU's increasing role in a globalised world. The EU has already adopted enlargement and external aid policies – likely topics in the imminent election campaign. The same applies to: trade policy in the light of transatlantic negotiations; better regulation of "unbridled finance", which needs to be expanded; and the dithering over migration. Also, the European peoples' diplomatic and military commitment must be strengthened, in their near neighbourhood at the very least, even on the basis of enhanced cooperation.

"Greater Europe" is also the proper scale for pursuing the efforts undertaken in the sphere of the climate and environment, and for encouraging the energy transition process. This is the core significance of the "European energy community" project that we are promoting in an effort to respond to the priority ambitions of the EU's citizens and member states.

And lastly, "Greater Europe" is the single market, which can still be deepened further in the spheres of the service industry, the digital economy and major infrastructures. This must allow workers' freedom of movement to become more fluid and better structured and it must become the object of greater social and fiscal harmonisation in order to allay the tension between east and west, or between the centre and the periphery.

Completing Economy and Monetary Union

The crisis has highlighted the faults caused by the imbalance between monetary union and economic union, and it is now causing the euro area to look increasingly like a political core for integration based on specific rights and duties in terms of discipline and of solidarity.

Thus it is necessary first and foremost to pursue the solidarity and control actions already embarked upon. Firstly, the establishment of a fully-fledged "banking union" based on the monitoring of banks at the European level, on getting the financial players to make a contribution to their own bailout and on reducing the differences in interest rates that businesses and households have to pay. Secondly, on improving European coordination in the sphere of member states' economic and social policies, in order to prevent excesses and drifts, through the adoption of financial incentives for member states that undertake reforms. Thirdly, on creating anti-cyclical insurance mechanisms of different kinds among the euro area's member states. And finally, on partially mutualising national debt issue in view of the threat of a systemic crisis that is still there.

Completing economic and monetary union (EMU) also means imparting a specific social dimension to that union, by involving the social partners, for instance in an effort to better organise the free movement of workers or to get Europe to take responsibility for the victims of structural adjustment – with young people heading the list. It also means giving the EMU the specific tools it needs to support growth through massive investment, not only to speed up the continent's emergence from the current, extremely serious phase of social and economic recession that is undermining its cohesion and its dynamism, but also to create the conditions of an environmentally responsible human development.

And lastly, it is necessary to complete the governance of the euro area by once again convening regular "euro area summits", by giving the Eurogroup a full-time chairman, and by allowing national and European parliamentarians to exercise their democratic monitoring powers better both in Brussels and in the various national capitals.

Promoting the European construction on the basis of clear alternatives

It is only by formulating a dual, positive agenda at the EU and euro area levels, that it will be possible to imbue the election campaign with its full significance.

First of all, we need to reaffirm our confidence in the European construction by optimising its basic acquis, such as for instance the spirit of reconciliation and the principle of freedom of movement. In the face of extremist parties, we must tirelessly restate the case for Europe, with determination and with an open mind, on the basis of a broad vision of the geopolitical threats and opportunities that it has to address.

The upcoming European elections must also trigger a clear political debate between the various different approaches to the EU's functioning, its policies and its future. There is a need to highlight the differences between the conservatives, the liberals, the social democrats, the ecologists, the radical left and the other political forces, and thus to allow the electorate to distinguish between their different agendas for the EU between now and 2020.

We welcome the fact that the European political forces are in the process of designating their candidates to the post of president of the Commission. European voters will be able to put faces on some leading orientations of the European construction as well as to the divides underlying the EU's political life, and they will be able to fully grasp the significance of major democratic deadline looming in the spring of next year, in the rest of Europe. 

This opinion was signed by the members of the Notre Europe-Jacques Delors Institute's Steering Committee, including: Pascale Andréani, Martine Aubry, Enrique Baron Crespo, Erik Belfrage, Pervenche Berès, Yves Bertoncini, Joachim Bitterlich, Joseph Borrell, Jean-Louis Bourlanges, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, Etienne Davignon, Anna Diamantopoulou, Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld, Henrik Enderlein, Jonathan Faull, Nicole Gnesotto, Elisabeth Guigou, Klaus Hänsch, Philippe Lagayette, Pascal Lamy, Jean Lapeyre, Eneko Landaburu, Pierre Lepetit, Paavo Lipponen, Florence Mangin, Sophie-Caroline de Margerie, Vitor Martins, Riccardo Perissich, Julian Priestley, Maria João Rodrigues, Artur Santos Silva, Philippe de Schoutheete, Daniela Schwarzer, Pedro Solbes, Christian Stoffaës, Frank Vandenbroucke, Christine Verger, António Vitorino.

Think tank

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