EU: The next 60 years
By Tomas Prouza
The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome provides us with an opportunity to celebrate as well as to reflect on the past achievements and recent developments, and to think about the current challenges the EU is facing.
In the Czech Republic, the prospect of integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures (both the EU and NATO) was considered as a safeguard of successful political, social and economic transformation and as a beacon of stability, security and prosperity in the tumultuous times of transition after the restoration of democracy in 1989.
Becoming a member of the EU was our strategic choice that has brought us many privileges we would hardly have seen if we had remained an independent player. Nowadays, after almost thirteen years, this sentiment is not so strongly present anymore and we have become a “normal” EU member state.
As a “normal” EU member, we are not only ready enjoy the benefits of our cooperation, we also share the responsibility for the future development of European integration and for building an even more successful Union. The upcoming Rome summit is a good opportunity for this reflection.
We expect – and we will strongly support – that this summit will confirm the unity and cohesion of the member states, as well as the willingness to continue to follow the path on which we embarked 60 years ago.
At the same time, it should also send a strong message about the EU’s main priorities, including specific measures which will allow us to deliver tangible results.
In recent years, the EU has become the ideal scapegoat across the continent. When national politicians face domestic issues, “dictations from evil Brussels” is an easy excuse and almost nobody seems to care enough to speak up for the European institutions or the Union as a whole.
The fact that public discourse is dominated by negative attitudes towards the EU and the positive impacts of our membership are rarely mentioned contributes considerably to the growth of various anti-European populist movements.
To counter their insurgence, it is essential to balance out the public debate and strengthen the ability of the EU to act.
It is crucial to constantly remind the public of and emphasise the importance of European cooperation and its results, and clearly demonstrate that we are gradually managing all of the problems.
The EU is successful and attractive. Its citizens enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world; they benefit from the best social and healthcare systems and, most importantly, live in a stable area of freedom, rule of law and security.
We should ask those who cast doubt on the EU and its benefits – what is your alternative outside of a united Europe?
The answer to those who want to gradually loosen the EU, rather than to improve its functioning, is clear: we have enough tools at our disposal to achieve the necessary changes.
Rather than engaging in endless debates about radical reforms with uncertain outcomes, we should make use of the existing legal framework in such a way to allow us to meet the expectations of our citizens.
Since 2008, when the financial crisis broke out in the USA, from the perspective of many it looks as if the EU is constantly staggering from crisis to crisis.
Now it is high time to drop this narrative of a Union in a state of permanent crisis management. This interpretation is clearly wrong and only creates problems for the self-esteem of European citizens.
The new breed of nationalistic and xenophobic politicians would like us to feel like we are losing control over events and processes that affect us. They would like us to doubt whether we are capable of finding a solution. They would like to erect new walls instead of tearing down the ones that remain.
Restoring the confidence of people in the EU is our primary task. To achieve this, the Union must respond quickly and effectively to the needs and concerns of its citizens.
The European Union will only be truly credible if the member states discuss and develop the steps for further integration together, with the contribution of all that are interested in cooperating. We must constantly strive to promote unity and respect among member states and between member states, the EU institutions and citizens.
The Union can strengthen its credibility only if it is capable of action and show – like some many times in its 60 years of existence – tangible benefits to its citizens.
For the Czech Republic, two areas are crucial in debates about the future direction of European integration: increasing the economic prosperity of Europe and its citizens and ensuring internal and external security.
A restart of economic and social convergence should become the fundamental pillar for strengthening of prosperity in Europe. Approximation of living standards between member states and bringing European societies closer together has always been an essential goal of European integration.
We have plenty of instruments available to promote convergence and growth, an internal market based on the four freedoms being one of them. Other instruments include the digital single market, Energy Union, promotion of investment, active trade policy – and more courage to move ahead in the social area.
Nowadays, economic prosperity also involves the aspect of security. If we ensure a stable standard of living for our citizens, they will feel more confident and secure.
Taking more responsibility
It is necessary for the EU to guarantee its citizens protection against threats of all kinds. The EU must ensure full control of its external borders, encourage cooperation between member states in fighting terrorism, and protect the privacy of its citizens.
In order to guarantee a sufficient level of external security, it is crucial to continue the development of European defence capabilities, while preserving the role of Nato in providing collective defence in Europe.
The Union must take more responsibility and contribute more to international stability. We must be prepared to defend our interests by strengthening rapid response capacity and crisis management in our regional neighbourhood.
We must not lose sight of our enlargement policy and keep offering a European perspective to our partners who are willing to share our values with us.
We must continue to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as the economic and social standards of people, in order to preserve their dignity.
Together, we have to stand up to those who invest national resources to damage and destroy what we have been building for the last 60 years and who would like to replace democracy with the autocratic rule of a single man.
Only then will we be sure of another celebration in Rome 60 years from now.
Tomas Prouza is state secretary for European affairs of the Czech Republic.