3rd Feb 2023

EU risks 'marginalisation' in the next 20 years

A new report has listed a bleak catalogue of the problems the EU is likely to face over the next 20 years, making it clear that solutions will require courageous leadership, the very quality widely perceived as lacking in the current EU political landscape.

The 46-page document, drawn up by a 12-person committee of "Wise Men" chaired by Spanish former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez and published on Saturday (9 May), looks at issues where member states have failed to make progress despite the fact European politicians have known for several years that they need to be tackled.

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  • The report's authors do not rate the EU's chances in global politics if it does not act now to reform itself (Photo: ToastyKen)

The "Project Europe 2030" report notes that the current financial crisis, which has seen national governments scramble to try and contain flagging market confidence in the eurozone, is a "wake-up call for Europe to respond to the changing global order."

"2010 could mark the beginning of a new phase for the EU and the next 50 years could be about Europe's role as an assertive global actor or, alternatively, the union and its member states could slide into marginalisation, becoming an increasingly irrelevant western peninsula of the Asian continent," it warns.

Some of its most specific recommendations come in the area of economic governance, where events surrounding the frantic push to rescue debt-ridden Greece are already seeing EU rules in the process of being re-written.

Elements of the reports such as the suggestion to set up a "financial instrument aimed at combating unexpected crises and asymmetric shocks" and reinforcing national budget supervision are already in the making.

A myriad of other suggestions - such as making social rights "transportable" between member states, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, improving tertiary education, farm policy reform, boosting research investment, better managing of migration, dealing with the demographics of ageing - are hoary old EU problems that usually lead to bickering and procrastination by member states, however.

"Above all, the situation calls for strong political leadership, a form of leadership marked by the capacity to sustain an honest and fruitful dialogue with citizens and to govern in partnership," the report says.

Using soft power

The EU's traditional tendency to try and "muddle through" is no longer an option in today's fluid, globalised world with the rise of other actors ready to exploit the union's structural weaknesses, it explains.

The bargain should take "into account the concerns of emerging and existing powers about the existing rules, while insisting on the importance of multilateralism, inclusiveness, equity, sustainable development, collective security, respect for human rights and the rule of law and fair trade practices."

But the EU will only be in a position to shape this international understanding if it is economically strong, if it continues to wisely use its soft power, particularly within its own neighbourhood, and if it matches its aspirations towards a common foreign and security policy with concrete deeds.

The report calls for both a long-term vision on European defence and a common European strategic concept, with the EU said to have failed to translate its economic weight into political leverage so far: "Only by developing such a strategic approach to its external affairs will the EU be able to translate its huge financial effort (the world's largest by far) more effectively into political leverage."

EU citizens

A large chunk of the report is devoted to EU citizens, widely seen as being divorced from Europe's political process. It notes that citizens will have to have a sense of "ownership" of the European project if it is to succeed with any further ambitions.

It suggests moving away from the Brussels' focus on "communication policy," often with an overly positive spin, to a more realistic approach.

"Instead of focusing on a communication policy which sometimes verges on propaganda, it would be preferable to communicate on policies, explaining frankly what is at stake and the different options available."

The tendency to communicate the EU narrative either in idealised or thoroughly pessimistic terms should also be avoided.

Politicising and engaging EU citizens could be achieved by allowing, under certain conditions, nationals of other member states to vote in national elections, creating European lists for the five-yearly European elections, and having a list of candidates for the position of European Commission president.

"The choice we face is therefore clear: build on the strengths of the EU and use its collective weight to become an assertive and relevant player in the world, or cultivate fragmentation and contemplate the possibility of absolute decline in a world where the rules are defined by those who matter," the report says.

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