At the crossroads – How can Europe become a model for success again?


Recent visits by high-level guests (the Vice President, and the ministers for defense and the exterior) from D.C. to Europe were scrutinized as rarely a visit from the most important partner country has been before. Comments during and after the election campaign about NATO being ‘obsolete’, and the EU being ‘bound for a breakup’, in sync with welcoming anti-EU insurgents created an atmosphere of puzzlement.

As for defense matters, EU member state leaders suddenly rushed to assure their willingness to increase defense budgets to (a long ago agreed) 2% of their respective GDP, maybe until 2024. But they also started to get involved in number games – don’t we also have to consider development aid, expenses for refugees, or costs for stabilizing currencies? The guests from overseas were not visibly impressed. As for the EU, which this year faces up to four crucial elections (Netherlands, France, Germany, possibly Italy), ‘mainstream’ leaders (one of the populist battle cries) continued to borrow some topics from the populist activists: unaccepted refugee candidates shall be returned quicker, austerity policies should give way to state-sponsored spending for infrastructure, social niceties, etc.

Yes, the EU is undergoing its most serious crisis after it was created about 60 years ago, but it also remains a success story. The question is: what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative?

– Klaus Segbers

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  1. Shen Dingli 1 year ago

    The EU isn’t one country, but a cluster of 28 countries, until the moment of Brexit. Members join and stay within the EU for benefits – veto equality, common market and cooperative security. For these they also pay a cost: part of their sovereignty.

    For ages, they feel that the benefit would outweigh potential costs. To assure genuine equality, EU has employed consensus for decision making.

    However, three factors are dividing the EU. First, the fast expansion of the EU has taxed more on its big powers, making them lose more jobs to cross-border migrants from within. Second, due to globalization, the EU is more vulnerable to the flow of terrorism and extremism. Third, under pressure of refugee exodus from Middle East, the EU’s brand equality is losing steam.

    To revive the EU, it is crucial that no power of the EU shall impose any moral hegemony upon other members. The unanimous decision making shall remain intact – no member shall demand quote of hosting refugees upon others. Remember, a member joins EU for prosperity and security, but not for disrespect and insecurity.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 1 year ago

    All EU crises seem insignificant compared to the shocks of the last decade, which started in 2008, with the financial-economic crisis. By that time the EU was gaining strength and growing, and from that moment became weaker and weaker, losing authority. The tendency of sliding down is unlikely to be stopped in the foreseeable future. The creation of an European army and an increase of defence budgets will not help to overcome the crisis. J. C. Juncker is right, stressing that development aid is perhaps more important, as well as expenses for refugees. With the emergence of multi-speed Europe, the core countries could co-operate more successfully and that could pull the others which for now remain aloof. But what really hurts is that the EU is gradually ceasing to be a model of success for other regions of the world. This is especially dangerous when populism, autarchy, nationalism and dictatorship are increasingly taking root in the continents that will determine the future of the planet.

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  3. Hildegard Müller 1 year ago

    I remember very well when the EU Commission implemented its energy packages about 10 years ago. When unbundling of transmission grid activities was discussed the often heard main statement was “Status Quo is not an Option”. And this is absolutely the case for the European Union today!

    Many things could help to make Europe a success-model again, but two are crucial: Commission, Parliament and Council have to focus on the important and meaningful issues, like in the beginning of the EU in the mid of the last century. Far too many nitty-gritty dossiers have interfered with national politics. The principle of subsidiarity has utterly become out of focus. Ultimately, this leads to dissatisfaction in many member states.

    Secondly, we – when I say we I mean all of us, politicians, media, managers, academics and many more – have to explain the advantages and the great value of the European Union to everybody, especially the young generation. Large parts of the society currently tend to take wealth, freedom and peace for granted. It is not. Therefore, we have to explain much better why the EU is so important to all Europeans.

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  4. Alexei Voskressenski 1 year ago

    I think that EU choices and also politics must be delinked under new situation from the choices of its overseas partner as well as the choices of other global regions. The overseas partner strengthens its preeminence and the restoration of economic and military hegemony based on economic nationalism, isolationism and mercantilist policies. That already happened in the past, but we do not know if such policies may lead to success under present situation and in a deeply divided society. It is even less clear that such policies may be successful for other global players. For the EU just not only surviving but regening momentum the only plausible choice is to formulate policies of a successfully rebalanced global region even if that means to shrink in size. To agree to be 'bound for the breakup' means to help the breakup with your own hands, but this means not only to lose momentum but disappear. Complete EU disappearance will not lead to successful rebalancing and future economic prosperity of each member state. This must be clearly explained and policy conclusions must be made from this point.

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  1. Zoltan Eperjesi 1 year ago

    Crossroads issues

    Mr. Jochen Wermuth has written for about 3 weeks ago in the former topic area the following: “It is about time that the EU strengthens its cooperation in foreign affairs and defense and thus reduces its dependence on American goodwill – which cannot be taken for granted anymore. This means boosting military spending and creating common institutions which are endowed with some effective decision making power; the nation states must be willing to transfer an initially small but rising share of their sovereignty in these areas to the European level, as in the Monetary and Banking Union before. The goal to create an ever closer union of the people of Europe must be reanimated in these uncertain times. One key German contribution to the process would be to stimulate economic growth by launching a large-scale infrastructure program; sound public finances make this a low-risk strategy. It would stabilize the euro and reduce the centrifugal forces which are threatening to tear apart our continent.” I have to agree with Mr. Wermuth’s arguments. Moreover, there is a key aspect regarding Germany’s role within the EU. As a strong global player and world export champion this federal republic is not a banana republic or the satellite of the US; - as often described by certain thinkers. This express locomotive (Germany) has many facets and potentials, as it can show up roles as diesel, industrial, electric or even hybrid locomotive. Indeed, it is quite important who are in the German locomotive crew and if we talk about such things as machinery of bureaucracy one will observe that certain samples of the German apparatus are often copied with partiality by competitors, emulators and even begrudgers. Of course, not all what functions in Germany can also work in other countries as forms without their natural backgrounds are functioning in a different way somewhere else. But if one compares German and EU standards one will wait and wonder how and when those high criterions will work within certain EU states; - I am referring here to such criterions which are both German and EU standards at the same time, because many countries are committed for example to high legal or constitutional values or even ISO standards, but there are several problems in their middle-term and long-term implementation. This example should show the key-role what Germany plays in the cohesion of the EU. Here is the catch, because besides certain mistakes (which is going hand in hand with its key position) of such a strong industrial and innovation leader as Germany within the EU, it is very tricky to really estimate its political role within the EU. Let’s take the example of a representative who is member of the upper house of the German parliament and a German politician who practices EU politics, but is no member of such valorous institutions as mentioned before. This does not means that the latter politician, who operates in Brussel achieves considerably less successes for his country as somebody who is in Berlin. However, the EU is somehow a future project, even for the German professional politicians. This is changing under the conditions of today’s political and economic crisis as the decisive leadership of Germany is still a responsible leadership, which is often misinterpreted by certain member states because of the huge political influence of this country. The question is as the pressure on Germany is increasing if this federative republic succeeds to implement cooperative leadership within the EU. The main emphasis in this respect is on conflicts of interest. Such keywords as Frankfurt on the Main (Stock Exchange), banking district and fiscal authority can be tied to economic and financial policy. Now we are just one step to issues, which have shaken the world in the recent financial and economic crisis. Is Brexit also a consequence of the banking crisis? Very probably, but until now the German banking sector seems to absorb even such losses. Of course, there are even sever collateral damages (quite strong inflation of the €), but this is not only the consequence of Brexit. It seems so that the German financial world (but also politics) has complex solutions and is even ready to take advantages from this sad decision of the other financial colossus, thus London. What shows us this lesson? Yes, it is professionality. Berlin is not Brussel and vice versa, but it seems so that German and European politicians are ready to learn from the shadows of lobbyism. The new political and economic challenges of our times can bind together and to disperse the members of the EU on the same time. It is the decision of each single member state if it still wants to belong to this future project, which now seems to come closer for certain actors and it seems to move far away for others. The EU is constructed on the proactive participation of single members and who decides to not to be positive for this complex project can leave this construct any time. I do not think that this will considerably affect the role of the core member states, but by the same token it will have severe consequences for those who decide to leave this protective house. Yes, the EU is not free from defects, but it doesn’t means that it cannot learn from its mistakes. Each member states have its strengths and weaknesses. Even the leaders thus the Paris and Berlin tandem is not perfect, but it functions and it absorbs other functional coalitions. Moreover, this does not means that only these two capitals are leading the EU as there are several other options and constellations in the future. It depends on the behavior of all participants how they can find clever consensus. In this respect one can learn something from Sweden’s politicians (clever compromises) or the non-bureaucratic methods implemented in the Netherlands. There are many positive examples in this way, not to mention the diligence and considerable improvements of new member states. It is nothing bad to reach a crossroads. Now it is a fact, but also a strong examination for each single member state. As to populist politicians, I am sure that if Brussel will loosen the purse strings (EU funds), they will think twice before renegotiating international conditions as this will affect their current positions. This is only one option to get rid from member states, who decided to be part of a train that is conducted by powerful locomotives. It is very easy to break to break one's journey overnight, but this will not mean that the journey will be over for others, who decide to explore and develop. Yes, it will be not easy at all to continue the journey together, but I think that it will be a hazarding experiment for those who will decide to follow a separate route, because this has to be developed as well. History already showed us several times where isolationism can lead. Go ahead and experience the painfully obvious facts that might still change your perspectives. So what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative? With clever informal diplomacy, international education and the work of civic institutions there is a possibility to convince nation states to not to fear to give a part away of their sovereignty. Consensus for decision making within the EU has to be improved and adjusted to current circumstances. I am agreeing with Mr. Shen Dingli’s proposal that “it is crucial that no power of the EU shall impose any moral hegemony upon other members.” I am also agreeing with the opinion of Mr. Justas Paleckis, thus, “the creation of a European army and an increase of defense budgets will not help to overcome the crisis. J. C. Juncker is right, stressing that development aid is perhaps more important, as well as expenses for refugees.” The only remark is here that the “Juncker Plan” needs strong modifications in order to also offer more economic inclusion for Eastern and Central European states as well. Moreover, it is very interesting the problem issued by Ms. Hildegard Müller as she wrote that “far too many nitty-gritty dossiers have interfered with national politics. The principle of subsidiarity has utterly become out of focus. Ultimately, this leads to dissatisfaction in many member states.” Her second point is even more challenging, because it is definitely true that there is a need “to explain much better why the EU is so important to all Europeans.” This elucidation fully harmonizes with Mr. Alexei Voskressenski’s closing thoughts: “Complete EU disappearance will not lead to successful rebalancing and future economic prosperity of each member state. This must be clearly explained and policy conclusions must be made from this point.”

    Let me close with a fragment of the conclusion of the European Issue n°401 of the Robert Schuman Foundation. The title of the article is “How can we make Europe popular again?” and it speaks for itself.

    Fragment from the conclusion: “Time has come to provide a clearer image of the Union and of its future, both from the point of view of its geographical limits and of its political aims. It would also be helpful to admit that its means for action are limited by its budgetary resources and by the legal requirements set out by the Treaties. Aims should not be given to the EU without being accompanied by the means necessary for it to succeed. At the same time, these limited means should be focused on vital issues that are really urgent and important for the populations of Europe.”

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  2. Sandra Miller 1 year ago

    This year marks the 60th anniversary of Treaty of Rome. European leaders gather in Rome to celebrate the accord, which started the process of the European Integration. The founders of the European project had the vision of creating a political union of governments, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimized. Though, Europe had a long way ahead to go through economic and political integration, in order to achieve a 'unity in diversity'. The European project was also designed to make war 'unthinkable'. What was achieved during 60 years of the EU? - The longest period of peace in Europe’s history, a unity among nations who share common values such as liberty, respect of human dignity, democracy, equality and solidarity.
    Despite those achievements, the question that makes today newspaper headlines is 'Is there any reason for celebration?'.
    Theresa May, the British prime minister, didn't attend the festivities of the Treaty of Rome. Indeed, Brexit is a 'tragedy' and Britain's absence from the EU's 60th birthday celebrations is 'a sad moment ', as Jean Claude Juncker stated.
    However, the political history of the European Union should make us strong enough to revive Europe. The challenges we face today are indeed different from those faced by the founders of the European Union. For that reason, we must create a new vision, a vision of values that will unite Europe again.

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