4th Jul 2022


'Older generation put a mortgage on my future'

  • "Twenty- and thirtysomethings have different ideas about what it is to be European" (Photo: European Commission)

The current problems of the European Union are not so much of an economic as of a political nature. Even under enormous pressure, member state leaders have failed over and over again to agree on any substantial economic reform package or the strengthening of the EU structures.

Yes, there were several deals along the way. But it was never enough, as we saw from the unrelenting pressure from the financial markets. That is because nobody in the financial world really believes that the euro can be saved, let alone properly managed, if the current decentralized approach with 17 different capitals prevails.

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The interdependence between economies, populations and cultures has risen to unseen levels since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Examples abound: one in five jobs in the US is now connected to European businesses; China has become the private banker to the US; the credit crisis spread over the globe in an unstoppable tsunami of financial destruction.

This crisis also marks the end of the babyboomer-mentality. What the headlines really show is a painful confrontation with the Western shortcomings of an endless hunger for debt, a lazy recline in the collective rocking chair, an indolent unwillingness to reform, an obsession with the nation state. And I blame the older generations for this, as they have put a mortgage on the (my) future and are unwilling to give up their entitlement.

To deal with the debt problems and make the European Union truly ready for the 21st century, we need to radically change its structures. Europe has to take the big leap forward to a federalized Union.

The first drastic step is to Europeanize the welfare state systems, the last bastion of the nation state, focusing on harmonizing tax regimes, labour policies and education systems. Concrete measures would be setting up a European welfare tax, an EU-wide pension age, EU dismissal laws and education curricula. And that would just be for starters.

Secondly, the European Parliament should be changed to a House of National Representatives, formed by national parliamentarians. This would prevent the deadly process of ratifying every EU decision in each member state, and put a stop to the influence national elections have on European decision-making.

If member states do not wish to follow this road to federalisation, they should be excluded from the EU core and set aside in a ‘second ring’ where, for instance, membership of the eurozone is not possible.

It is absolutely clear that the current generation of politicians do not wish to take – or even consider taking – these drastic steps to a United States of Europe. Because that will be the end goal. Politicians are captured by their national constituency and their collective fear of change.

So it is crucial that the ‘network generation’, the young people who grew up after the Cold War, gets involved in the discussion on the future of Europe. They believe in Europe - much more so than their parents - and are not afraid of disappearing borders and changing structures. Twenty- and thirtysomethings think differently about the welfare state, the nation state, about the uncertainty of our economy and wealth, about what it means to be Dutch, or European.

The key for Europe’s rescue does not lie in Athens, Rome, Madrid or Brussels, but in the hearts and minds of the members of the network generation. They are prepared to pay the price for retaining the Europe model - giving up the (already hollowed out) political structures of the nation state.

The writer is chairman of the Dutch think-tank Prospect.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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