Tuesday

15th Oct 2019

Top-level discussion glum on state of EU

A clutch of academics, policy-makers and politicians gathered in Brussels on Wednesday (2 October) for a glum and angst-ridden debate on the state of the European Union.

The discussion contained many of the perennial internal and external complaints about the EU - that it lacks charismatic leaders and a single external voice - coupled with more recent doubts about the threat of prolonged economic stagnation and, with EU elections next year, waning popular support.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Christopher Pissarides, a nobel prize winner in economics, said the answer both to restoring Europe's external standing in the world and its own self-confidence lies with the economy.

"We should get the economy back to growth," he said, adding that a "rallying call" was needed to restore the euro’s credibility.

"Even more importantly we need one that will restore trust between the member countries. Without trust between us, we are not going to influence the rest of the world.”

But he questioned whether there are any European leaders with "the guts and the bravery to take this on."

Etienne Davignon, president of Friends of Europe think tank, hosting the debate, said the problem Europe faces is inspiring “hope” in people.

“Young people in university are convinced that there future will not be as good as that of their parents,” he said.

Long term stagnation?

Minouche Shafik, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said that Europe has done a “huge amount” to build the architecture for crisis management in the eurozone.

But she added: “the biggest risk facing Europe today is a long period of economic stagnation. A long period of very slow growth.”

She said this would occur if businesses in peripheral countries continue to face huge interest rates; if high debt levels mean consumers are reluctant to spend, and if a generation's productive capacity is “permanently damaged” by longterm unemployment.

Europe’s stagnant economy and record-high joblessness was seen as affecting its standing abroad too.

“Soft power is only good if backed by economic power,” said one speaker, referring to the EU traditional way seeking foreign policy objectives through cooperation and aid.

Nick Westcott, managing director for Africa in the EU's diplomatic service, said "you are only as strong as your economy."

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy chose to view the EU glass as half full, rather than half empty.

He said that the EU would emerge more "resilient" from the crisis and spoke of the need for an "ever closer eurozone."

"We are not living the nationalisation of European politics, no, we see the Europeanisation of national politics. Europe is not a soft idea anymore but a firm reality. "

But he admitted that voters in next year's European elections are set to punish EU leaders.

"It is not an easy road, but one that will reward us in time. If not yet by next year's voters, then surely by later ones," he said.

Others were much more pessimistic.

Pierre Vimont, secretary general of the EU diplomatic service, said the EU does not need more treaty change - often mooted as a solution - as "we have everything we need on the table."

"The main problem is about political will and the ability of our political leaders to explain what we are trying to do," he noted.

"The problem with the European Union for the last 10 or 15 years is that we have lost public opinion. That is why we are all worried about next year's European election," he added.

Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms

Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition and misuse of public funds over their role in Catalonia's 2017 bid for independence. The possible legal immunity of some MEPs remains unanswered.

Hungarian opposition wins Budapest in blow to Orban

Budapest joins Istanbul and Warsaw by having an opposition mayor to a strongman illiberal leader, after a united opposition serves a shock blow across several towns in local elections in Hungary.

Commission takes Poland to court on eve of election

As Poland's combative Law and Justice party faces elections this Sunday, the commission once again sends a case on its domestic judiciary reforms to the European Court of Justice for breaking EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Latest News

  1. EU countries to halt arms sales to Turkey
  2. Nine Catalan separatist leaders given long jail terms
  3. Poland's right-wing ruler wins four more years
  4. EU powerless in new Syrian mayhem
  5. Hungarian opposition wins Budapest in blow to Orban
  6. New Dutch terror bill must not target aid workers
  7. EU proposes pesticide ban, but key documents still secret
  8. Brexit nail-biter and EU nominations This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us