Friday

27th Jan 2023

Letter

'My advice': Open letter from Van Rompuy to Michel

  • Open letter from former EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy to future president Charles Michel (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Dear Charles Michel,

First of all, I wish you just luck. This function is the apogee of every political career. At the same time, you can serve the largest political project of the last century, the Union. One can fulfil one's ideals and ambitions.

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  • Van Rompuy to Charles Michel:' The net zero emission for 2050 is a must. You are a young father, and I, a young grandfather. We owe them this.' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

You will be the youngest president of the European Council ever. After you no successor will be younger than 43. I was the first president. That too will remain unique.

But 'history' will above all remember which results you can achieve, not how many interviews you gave or how you profiled yourself.

Expect the unexpected. I lived through the unexpected eurozone crisis for almost three years. Donald Tusk had to deal with the massive immigration of 2015-2016 in a human way, and there was Brexit, now also three years long.

These were no usual problems. These were existential crises.

For the Union, it was a matter of survival. I hope that you and the EU will be spared of this. Of the expected problems, some are already difficult enough.

The loss of Britain

Next year there must be a European budget. I succeeded in having one just a year before the European elections, but now it is more difficult.

There is the loss of Britain, and austerity in agriculture and in regional support in central Europe. The new commission will probably make its own draft budget, but in the end, it is the European council that decides. Unanimously.

Two countries are in an extraordinary procedure because they violated European law. If they don't revoke some domestic measures or if the European Council is unable to impose sanctions because of a lack of the necessary unanimity, then the Union will bleed.

Even after a hard Brexit one will need to talk to the UK, in order to keep the chaos under control and to work out the future relationship. These decisions can only be taken by the European Council.

Besides that, there is the unfinished agenda launched by French president Emmanuel Macron in his Sorbonne speech of September 2017. The eurozone and the Schengen zone have been strengthened the past few years, but not sufficiently enough.

It will be your duty to bring the French and the Germans closer to each other. There is a big difference with 'my' time. There is a need of more solidarity, the feeling that we are in the same boat. That's what I am missing often now.

The EU will have to be prepared for a possible trade war with the US. President Donald Trump needs enemies. That's his political capital. Our 'leitmotif' is 'together'. His is 'divide'.

The EU will also need to look for a common position towards China. We too have problems concerning trade and investments, but we want dialogue, not 'war'.

European sovereignty

The European and the German economy have structural problems. We are running behind with innovation and new technologies.

We can only survive of we cooperate concerning research and innovation, electric cars, sustainable batteries, etc. We need a European industrial policy in order to keep European sovereignty.

European defence is another example where European sovereignty is necessary. There is a lot of progress since the British brake fell away, but the road is still long.

The Union can never become a 'world power' without a defence dimension. If not, we will just remain a global actor. The EU must be the frontrunner on climate. The net zero emission for 2050 is a must.

But above all, we need to honour our earlier agreements. My last European Council, in October 2014, was dedicated to climate. We decided unanimously to reduce the emissions by 40 percent in 2030. Afterwards this became law.

The focus on climate was wanted. You are a young father, and I, a young grandfather. We owe them this.

Direction of march

Concerning the enlargement of the Union we cannot let down the courageous North Macedonia. Other countries too are waiting to negotiate with the EU.

Do convince your friend president Macron still other countries are welcome in the EU. Of course they have to meet the conditions. That's self-evident, but let's start.

I don't need to give you advice on how to deal with all this. You will follow your own way.

The European Council is THE central institution of the Union. It defines the direction of march. It manages the crises.

Don't forget that until new there is still a pro-European majority in the parliament. Don't miss the opportunity to show the Europeans that the Union too is needed to better protect them against all kinds of real and imagined threats.

Know that the support in the Union for membership is now the highest in 27 years. Europe is not loved, but it cannot be missed.

Bon vent.

Kind regards,

Herman Van Rompuy

Author bio

Herman Van Rompuy is a former Belgian prime minister and first ever EU Council president, from 2009-2014.

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