22nd Sep 2021

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

MEPs to declare EU an LGBTI 'freedom zone'

The symbolic move is an attempt to buttress against right-wing governments' increased scapegoating of LGBTI people, particularly in Poland and Hungary.

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote
  2. Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them
  3. Spain wants energy price discussion at next EU summit
  4. Trust in Dutch government drops, but not for Rutte
  5. Long ago, there was another Angela Merkel
  6. The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords
  7. First refugee deaths confirmed on Belarus-EU border
  8. EU kept in dark on ex-commissioner's new lobby job

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us