Europe: The way out of crisis (Florence Conference, 2006)

Speech by Costas Simitis

Insecurity and doubt are engulfing European society. Not only are the weaker classes affected, but even those that are able to keep pace with economic and technological change – businesses and agents of economic development that are dynamic enough to adapt and to develop creatively in the new era are affected. Crucial developmental goals of the Maastricht Treaty have remained unfulfilled due to a combination of feeble policies and a lack of political will. The same applies to the Lisbon goals. Conservative political decisions postponed their implementation, or weakened essential budget provisions and hindered the formulation of effective policies. Many of the best brains are leaving for the United States; at the same time businesses are relocating to the East, increasing the ranks of the jobless in Europe. Europe looks irresolute at the developments.

The supposedly complete Monetary Union, coupled with the incomplete Economic Union, low rates of development, inadequate social policies and, in particular, the inability to deal with unemployment, the failure to apply national immigration policies and the absence of a comprehensive European Union migration policy have given rise to disappointment.

Meanwhile, the people of Europe see a European Union with dysfunctional institutions and procedures. They see a European Union whose effectiveness, especially since its enlargement to 25 members, has been compromised, as it tries to operate with the old tools of the EU15. They see a yawning legitimacy deficit, despite repeated criticism, and a European Union that lacks a strong voice on the new international stage, especially on foreign policy and security issues.

The consequences of globalization are a present threat; but there are no policies that offer hope for the future. Political leaders find it hard to reach an understanding. We are living in a grim reality that fuels public skepticism about Europe’s strength and its ability to honor its pledges.

The European Union of the twentieth century had some remarkable achievements to its credit. That European Union is no longer adequate. There is talk of new models, such as a ‘network of national states.’ There are new proposals to improve institutions, procedures and policies. But new though such proposals may be, many of them merely mask stagnation and their proponents belong to the same camp as those who declare openly that they don’t want ‘more’ Europe.

The European Union must produce a strategy for the future:

First step: We must once again convince our people that problems with supranational causes can only be solved at a supranational level. We must re-inject into our societies the ideas that for decades animated the European project and lent it public legitimacy.

The European Union will not meet the needs of its people unless it moves beyond what it has achieved so far. Otherwise, sooner or later, it will become nothing more than a free market zone. The European Union must evolve in order to produce answers to current problems and shape conditions that lead to a more secure, prosperous and just future. Our goal must be not just any Europe rather than the one we have at present. It must be a strong Europe, enriched with institutions and policies that confer on it a new, reliable and attractive identity, able to engage the interest of the majority of its people and to offer valid solutions to their problems.

The Draft Constitution is still the most reliable and realistic step in this direction. I would say that it is the necessary step towards shaping a new identity, but that the prospects of its adoption are slim. I find it hard to imagine how it could be resubmitted to those who voted against it, without meaningful amendments. But I also find it hard to imagine that countries that voted for it reluctantly because they judged that the present draft limited their powers would be prepared to accept ‘more’ Europe, new interventionary rights for the EU, or a European social policy. I believe that the current period of reflection tends to encourage inertia. It is therefore urgent that we proceed to the next stage.

Second step: If we accept this conclusion, we must adopt crucial chapters from the draft constitution on which consensus has emerged. Examples are institutional reforms, and the regulations for the Common Foreign Policy and Security Policy.

Such a change would give the European Union new momentum and boost its effectiveness.

But that is not enough. Society expects policies; it expects specific answers to the problems it faces. The economy must once again become the motive force for a way out of the crisis.

Third step: We must strengthen crucial policies. This means:

  • Completing the Economic Union in a manner equivalent to that of the Monetary Union. Re-establishing real Economic Governance that goes beyond coordinating the economic policy of the 25.
  • Breathing new life into the Lisbon Strategy, with a broad plan for development and employment in the coming decade. Bolstering competitiveness policies, the information society, and especially research and training. Broadening policies for infrastructure, paying greater attention to the energy sector. Implementing integrated, effective employment policies. Aiming for sustainable development and social cohesion by means among others of redistribution policies. Confronting new security threats in everyday life with effective initiatives. Convincing the people that we genuinely care about greater social justice. There are policies which have been discussed but which are still on paper, for example creating new infrastructure, promoting cooperation and exchange among universities (Super-Erasmus), and funding new technologies, so that the Union becomes a pioneer in new fields. We must decide on these.
  • Agreeing that in order to be effective, these policies need funds, more funds than they have received so far, and funds that produce tangible results. The European idea won many supporters in my country when people realized that specific projects were being carried out thanks to the Community Support Frameworks.
  • Finally, working together on a multi- polar global order promotes cooperation, contributes to the solution of chronic problems in the third world and tackles contemporary threats to the planet, especially to the environment.

Fourth step: We need vision of a strong Europe, a Europe for all, and the need to mould its new identity demands a comprehensive plan with broader goals. It demands a plan that will both take into account the sensitivities of the partners and outline the next middle-term steps in the European Union’s evolution. For example, it should underline the possibility for the member states to engage in reinforced cooperation on specific policy areas. At the institutional level, the Commission must become a genuine European government, the European Parliament a genuine legislative body and the Council of Ministers an upper house. At the head of them all, the European Council, with a president and foreign minister, will symbolize and express the new entity.

Finally, we must realize that the European project cannot proceed at one speed for all 25 member-states. Economic and social discrepancies among its members will be significant for some time and therefore demand different preparation and adaptation times to new policies from country to country. The European project must allow for new policies that will boost its competitiveness while maintaining political and social cohesion. A strong Europe can only emerge from a unified political will centered on a package of strategic goals. We must come up with structures and procedures that allow eventually the Euro team – the only existing example of advanced integration – or another group to proceed, taking European Union policies to advanced levels of political unification.

Such a plan for a strong Europe, the shaping of its identity, cannot be achieved in summit meetings alone. The new shape of Europe must express the vast majority of its citizens. We must convince society, civil society, of the necessity of this vision, of the benefits that will accrue to it and to the vital interests of every individual citizen. We must mobilize society to achieve this, as it did fifty years ago, when the demand of public opinion that old rivalries be overcome led to the foundation of the European Economic Community. With persistence and consistency, political dialogue, and ideological struggle.