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23rd Sep 2018

Time for Europe to fill US vacuum, says ex-Danish PM

  • 'If we don't find solutions we will be irrelevant,' warned Denmark's Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a year ahead of the next European elections (Photo: Consilium)

"Keep calm and carry on." In the wake of a disastrous G7 summit where US president Donald Trump all but broke off the Western alliance, the EU should stay cool and prepare to take over global leadership.

That is the message on Monday (11 June) by a former member of the EU leaders club, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

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"The US is leaving a vacuum. And who should step in? For me, it is completely obvious, it is Europe's time to step in," the former Danish prime minister said at an event in Brussels.

"That's where our new next opportunity is," she said, describing Trump's course as a "most massive wake-up call."

Thorning-Schmidt, who was presenting a report on 'What Europe can do to regain initiative', insisted that the EU should have a "bigger engagement in the Middle East", and recommit to the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.

She also argued that the EU should take "the leadership - that we would get from nowhere else - in regulating the information society."

The report, published by the Boldt consultancy, identified a "robot society" and a "clean Earth revolution" as key drivers for the EU's future, against a backdrop of the new international situation, internal tensions and ongoing work on privacy protection.

A year ahead of the European elections, the former Danish PM called on EU leaders to have "a little less conversation, a little more action."

"If we don't find solutions we will be irrelevant," said Thorning-Schmidt, who took part in more than 30 EU summits when she was prime minister between 2011 and 2015.

She pointed out that the EU needed to improve the governance of the eurozone.

"One thing we need to do very soon is to find ways to govern the euro in a way so we don't ever end up in situation we were in before," she said.

Reconnect on immigration

She argued that the test for voters' trust in their leaders would be over the issue of migration and asylum.

"Unless we can guard our borders of the European Union and also our internal borders, and unless we can find ways to deal with immigration, asylum seekers, I don't think people would have the trust in us again," she said.

Thorning-Schmidt, who is a Social Democrat, insisted that finding the balance between control of borders and migration, and respect for international conventions was not controversial, but the way to "reconnected with the people on very hard issue."

She said that "it takes true leadership to find [that] balance" and that it should not be confused with populism.

"We have to think again this distinction between populists and non-populists," she said, noting that many people who vote for parties like the National Front in France or the League in Italy used to vote for social democrats.

"Listening to what they are saying is not being populist, that's being in tune with your own people and reacting to their worries," she said.

That is also why she argued that it would benefit leaders "and perhaps more importantly the people of Europe and their wishes" if the EU thought again of putting in place the safeguards on labour movement such as it promised to the UK ahead of the Brexit referendum.

Not a candidate?

"We have to be able to put some safeguards on our welfare state and a little bit more control of free movement of labour," she said.

"Unless we have that, and that conversation, we will not have the trust of people," he insisted.

Thorning-Schmidt, who is now CEO of Save the Children International NGO, did not want to say whether she would try to run as lead (so-called 'Spitzenkandidat') Social Democratic candidate at the EU parliament election in 2019.

"I will always try to do my bit for Europe," she simply said, adding she wanted to help Europe avoid the "roughest globalisation".

If ever the former Danish PM was brewing a return to EU politics, she would sound more like a candidate to the position of European Council president, a position for which her name already floated in the past.

She insisted on the need for consensus and refused to distance herself from the centre-right's Angela Merkel or the centrist Emmanuel Macron. 


"It's not that we are talking completely different languages," she noted.

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