Overall and in the light of history, the European Union (EU) has been a great success.That is still the case, for most of its members. However, Europe is facing a major crisis. The European Union can continue to succeed, if its leaders are ambitious and pragmatic. Institut Montaigne, a leading French think-tank, offers analyses and concrete suggestions for reinvigorating the great European project in a new report, The Europe we need.
The EU’s successes – peace, prosperity and solidarity – are significant, but the people of Europe have lost their enthusiasm for the project, as the Brexit vote in 2016 made frighteningly clear. What is to be done? The answer is not simply more of the same – more centralisation and more opaque arrangements. Rather, concrete problems must be addressed in a transparent and increasingly democratic way.
First and foremost, the Eurozone project must be completed.The single currency has accomplished some of its goals – inflation is down, lower financing costs have improved investment and capital allocation, and the euro has become a global reserve currency. However, Member States have not risen to the challenges which come with the single currency. They sometimes have been irresponsible in their policies and lacked solidarity in crisis.
A new attitude is necessary, and new Eurozone institutions to reinforce it. Institut Montaigne proposals include a formalisation of the Eurogroup with a permanent president and an explicit responsibility to the European Parliament, better budget planning for all the Member States of the euro area, increased funding to stabilise the zone in times of stress and, eventually, a Eurozone budget. The budget can be effective even if it is small, only 2% of Eurozone GDP. It can also benefit to all members.
At the same time, the European economy needs to be revitalised. Institut Montaigne proposes to increase European integration in the following sectors: finance, energy and digital technology. For these sectors, the EU can help with more unified regulation, a proper anti-trust framework and carefully targeted financial and institutional support. European rather than national champions are needed to face global competition. The report also calls for a more citizenoriented European trade policy.
In the globalised world, Europe faces other challenges which are best met as a union rather than as individual states. Now is the time to increase cooperation on security, with a more European approach to procurement, strategy, anti-terrorism, anti-organised crime – and the establishment a permanent European military command centre. Migration issues should be addressed with more solidarity, both by a more uniform willingness to take in refugees and a stronger Frontex (European border police). Europe must also come together in its foreign policy, both to deal more effectively with large and powerful trading partners and to fill the global gap created by the changes in the United States.
Institut Montaigne recognises that the European Union will eventually need new treaties. For now, though, it is better to rely on what is already available, and a lot can be done within current treaties. No formal treaties are required to make the Commission smaller and more efficient or for national governments to take a more responsible and collaborative approach to their budgets.
The Europe we need is not an impossible dream, but it cannot be reached without significant changes in the Europe that we have now. Hard work on specific issues is required. More than that, the EU needs a renewal of the spirit which animated the founders of this project 60 years ago.
The European Union was founded on the principle that nations are stronger when they work together. Looked at over the decades, the principle has proved itself well. The EU has made significant contributions to the region’s peace and prosperity. It has created open borders and freed trade. It has supported the rights of workers and promoted social justice.
But in recent years the EU has lost the support of many of its citizens. Fewer than half of the eligible voters have participated in European Parliamentary elections since 1999, and national elections and referendums have shown a steady increase in Euroscepticism in most countries. Unfortunately, governments have mostly ignored this discontent. They have pushed ahead with unpopular expansions of EU-wide regulations and done little to address the serious complaints about economic shortcomings and the lack of popular democracy.
For the European project, 2016 was an annus horribilis: Brexit, the vote to leave the Union, showed the need for internal changes. The election of Donald Trump, the least EU-supportive American President ever, showed the importance of taking a strong and unified position in the world. After these setbacks, muchhas to be done if the EU is to thrive.
At the most basic level,the most urgent need is to revive the spirit which inspired European cooperation in the 1950s. At the time, European countries were dedicated to finding pragmatic but ambitious solutions to the common challenges of the people of Europe. Today, people doubt that the Union strengthens its Member States. If the EU is to stay united, its leaders must rediscover some of the initial enthusiasm. Change is needed, starting from the top. It could begin with a strong threefold commitment from the heads of state of all EU members.
- First, they should reaffirm their shared core European values. This would present a much needed challenge for Poland and Hungary, which have introduced illiberal laws without facing much protest from the EU.
- Second, they should identify the current challenges which the EU, as a single entity, is better able to address than the individual members: climate change, the digital revolution, the rise of Asia, the change in U.S. strategy and the protection of citizens from terrorism and from economic insecurity.
- Third, they should clarify how the EU will divide and exercise its responsibilities. They should remember the EU’s principle of subsidiarity, which assigns as many matters as possible to the national governments. They should also remember that extensive shared regulatory regimes are not always necessary to bind European countries together.
Institut Montaigne’s analysis leads to concrete proposals, under six headings.