20th Jan 2022

Barnier: A revolution in integration only response to growing nationalism

  • Europe is the only continent on the planet that is to see its population decline over the next four decades (Photo: European Commission)

European leaders have again warned against rising 'populist' anti-EU tendencies across the block, but one commissioner has struck out and said that profoundly deeper integration, including an elected EU president, may be the only way to prevent paralysis and decline.

Citing the support for the anti-immigrant eurosceptic True Finns and the growing support from France's far-right National Front, internal market commissioner Michel Barnier on Monday (9 May) said he worried that by 2050, Europe would be "paralysed at home national populism and selfishness", diminishing the bloc to the status of a regional power.

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"We need nations to bring citizens to terms with the European project. We need nations to combat nationalism," he said in a speech to Humboldt University in Berlin.

The solution, he argued, was to overcome the Union's notorious democratic deficit with, eventually, an elected president that combines the role of the head of the European Council and the European Commission.

"One day a future president of the European Union, whoever he or she will be, should both preside over the European Council and chair the European Commission," he continued.

However, he was careful not to suggest that the people exercise this democratic right too soon. The first step would see such a president appointed by a congress comprising MEPs and national deputies. Only "further into the future" could he or she obtain a directly elected mandate.

"For 60 years we have been building Europe for its citizens and in their name; but too often we have been doing it without them," he said, adding that the democratic mandate of the European Parliament was not sufficient.

"The gap between Europe and its citizens has gradually widened. The hard work done every day by the European Parliament – the only European institution which is directly answerable to the people – will not be enough to bring about reconciliation."

Barnier also wants to see a fusion of the positions of the chief of the eurozone group of states - currently held by Luxembourgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, and the economy and monetary affairs commissioner, currently held by Finnish liberal politician Olli Rehn.

He also argued for deeper integration in almost all other policy areas, calling for a common asylum system, a "common European diplomacy" that should be housed in a "European foreign ministry" rather than the existing European External Action Service, and common European defence.

This latter project would involve "A true military staff structure, systematically bringing together research efforts and resources, and favouring European products when purchasing equipment."

He would also like to see the creation of a European Civil Defence Force that could respond to natural, industrial and humanitarian disasters and a network of European consulates.

Noting that Europe is the only continent on the planet that is to see its population decline over the next four decades, he also called on the countries of Europe to develop a European population policy involving "a co-ordinated policy to boost the birth rate and provide support in childhood."

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