• The 2023 State of the European Union speech by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was a return to typical form. As opposed to last year, where Russia’s war in Ukraine was truly the focal point, this address had all the hallmarks of a traditional State of the Union. However, it was also unique as, like President von der Leyen pointed out at the start of her speech, the European elections will take place in less than 300 days, making this the last State of the Union of her current term.

    Therefore, the initial focus was very much on outlining all the achievements of her Commission since 2019, not just over the past year, ranging from a greater geopolitical role for Europe to the efforts spent on combating climate change, most important of which is the European Green Deal.

    Rapidly though, and perhaps indicating her own ambition to run for a second term as the head of the European executive now that Berlin has blessed it, von der Leyen began outlining all the future objectives which the EU must focus on, both short and long term. This wasn’t necessarily to be expected given the political timeline, but this resulted in her address having a true sense of direction.

    In line with recent posturing from global democracies on the matter of relations with China, von der Leyen struck the careful balance which the EU has aimed for, maintaining the EU was open for business, but unequivocally firm against unfair competition, taking aim at the massive subsidies Chinese companies rely on to then offer cheap goods in European markets. Specifically, von der Leyen took aim at the electric vehicle industry, announcing an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. De-risk, not decouple was the mantra which she employed to summarise the EU’s position towards the Asian giant.

    Turning domestically, von der Leyen spoke of the importance of protecting the environment, but mentioned the crucial importance of working alongside the agricultural sector when doing so. This echoed the conversation around the Nature Restoration Law, which was voted by the European Parliament in early July despite opposition from the EPP Group, on account of the fact that it would risk harming farmer livelihoods.

    Significantly, President von der Leyen also called for the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area, which drew long applause from the MEPs in the Plenary. On enlargement, she made a series of calls for a renewed push towards integrating new member states, emphasising her belief that all the programmes which the EU began building with 27 member states can be completed with more than 30 members, indirectly speaking to Georgia and Ukraine, among others.

    However, von der Leyen made no firm commitment for accession of the countries, instead choosing to acknowledge the good work they have done towards reforming. This reflects the fraught political reality that further enlargement remains deeply unpopular in many parts of the EU, and will likely become the key policy field of the next College of Commissioners.

    Von der Leyen chose to end her speech mentioning the call of history, having spoken of the inevitability of further enlargement and the importance of completing our Union, both through welcoming new members, and securing the fundamentals, chief of which are democracy and the rule of law. This was directed at both existing and potential member states, reminding us all that the European Union still has a lot of work to do getting its house in order.

    On industrial policy, climate, enlargement, and in many other areas, the EU is at a critical junction. This speech was a balanced reminder that we must all be actively involved in these varied policy areas if we wish to secure the best future which our unique system is capable of delivering.  

    Theo Larue EU Institutions European Union Leadership

    Theo Larue

    A Forward-Looking State of the Union Speech Outines the EU’s Future


    14 Sep 2023

  • Roberta Metsola Tomi Huhtanen Democracy EU Institutions Leadership Ukraine

    Thinking Talks Ep.5 with Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament

    Multimedia - Thinking Talks

    30 Apr 2022

  • After its launch in May 2021, the Conference on the Future of Europe now finds itself needing somewhat of a boost. Intended as a participatory process to address the “collective future” of the European Union, the Conference wants to create a conversation on the Union’s future, backed by a tacit commitment that the European Commission, Council, and Parliament would follow up on the final recommendations.

    The subjects tackled are wide-ranging. Some topics, such as climate change, the economy, health, digital transformation, migration, and youth, may direct policy outcomes. Other discussions tend to be more existential, including those on the EU’s place in the world, the nature of values, rights, the rule of law, and European democracy. Yet, despite this plethora of topics (or because of this extremely wide range of topics), the conversation seems to have stalled.

    Some pitfalls were hard to predict. The epidemiological situation delayed initial progress for the Conference, and the volatile situation has rendered frank face-to-face conversations somewhat difficult, further stunting the discussion. Rather than focus on the future of Europe, the conversation naturally shifted to mitigating the effects of COVID-19, combatting the spread of the virus, and measures aimed at kickstarting the economy. However, the two discussions need not be mutually exclusive.

    Other pitfalls were easier to discern:

    The danger of apathy always lurked in the background. Though considerable effort has been made to ensure the Conference will succeed, this format may not be the best way to foster a wide-ranging participatory debate that reaches achievable conclusions.

    More importantly, the outcome of the Conference remains unclear. Though the Commission has committed itself to implementing its conclusions, it is still uncertain whether these will be ambitious enough to address some severe shortcomings or be merely perfunctory.

    The ultimate question will be whether the Conference will address critical concerns or create further lacunae that fuel more frustration among EU citizens.  

    Lacklustre participation and predictable outcomes are likely to have the opposite effect of what the Conference intended to achieve – namely, a broad discussion on the EU backed by popular legitimacy.

    This, however, contrasts with what takes place in the public arena. The political debate has long been dominated by what Europe means and where the EU should go. As a result, successive elections in different countries have returned results which can be interpreted as votes of confidence (or no-confidence) in some aspects of the European project. Therefore, one can conclude that the debate on the future of Europe takes place regardless of whether it is formalised or not.

    There are some steps which can be taken to add relevance to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

    Firstly, the Conference is hampered by the limited time during which it can make its deliberations. Such a conversation requires careful thought, and changing circumstances warrant the consideration of an extension, within which these discussions can properly take place. Unfortunately, President Macron’s wish to have this Conference conclude during the rotating French Presidency of the Council makes this almost impossible.

    Secondly, the discussion on the future of Europe is now intertwined with the post-COVID-19 scenario (or, rather, with the evolving COVID-19 situation), as the pandemic and its consequences are likely to affect all of the key areas discussed by the Conference. In effect, the EU’s future reputation hinges on how it responds to such issues.

    Thirdly, the EU needs to tacitly recognise that the conversation over the future of Europe is taking place regardless of whether it is formalised in such processes. These debates are often over-simplified and boxed in two camps – those broadly seen as being “pro-EU” and those which are more eurosceptic.

    However, when one delves into the general discussions on the EU, one finds a somewhat nuanced view where legitimate concerns over certain policy aspects coexist with the genuine desire for further collaboration in others. In essence, this encapsulates one of the very key principles which the EU should cherish – that of subsidiarity.

    As the Conference begins to draw its conclusions, all eyes will be on how the institutions react and what their next steps will be.

    André P. Debattista EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe

    André P. Debattista

    Prospects for the Conference on the Future of Europe


    16 Dec 2021

  • 1. The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is expected to envision Europe’s future on a 20 to 30-year horizon. The years of various crises and the ongoing pandemic have shown that we need a more effective and rules-based European Union. Could such a Conference deliver effective results, extending beyond its mere intentions?

    Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, former Prime Minister of Poland: The Conference could deliver results well beyond its stated intentions if it addressed the most important challenges facing the European Union. I feel many in Poland would agree that the central issue for the EU is to overhaul the paradigm of the European project in response to fundamental changes taking place in the world. The old days, when Europe was focused on post-war reconciliation and gradual deepening of integration, followed by enlargement and re-unification of the continent at the start of this century, are gone. The rationale of the Coal and Steel Community is over. And it is not only over because Europe will most likely no longer be manufacturing coal or steel in the next 10-15 years. European integration, the Single Market, the euro, and now the milestone of common debt to rebuild Europe after COVID are the crown achievements of that “old” stage of the project. The EU was conceived to end centuries of war among its nations, which culminated in the horrors of the Second World War, replacing them with harmonious cooperation and the joint pursuit of prosperity for European citizens. By fulfilling this mission for 70 years, the EU is probably the most successful political project ever. Although certain tensions persist and local conflicts between member states of the EU still happen, I do not think that maintaining peace in Europe is the most critical issue. Similarly, even if we have some issues in member states with democracy, rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, such internal problems are relatively less pronounced than they were in parts of Europe in the 1950s.

    What matters much more today, and will determine the future of Europe, is how to identify and address external challenges. Let me mention a few of them. The first is climate change and adapting to its impact on the social and economic performance of member states. America, under President Biden, is rising to this challenge with a speed and determination that we should emulate. The second challenge is the Chinese expansionist and revisionist policy, which is encouraging other authoritarian and bellicose nations, such as Russia and Turkey, to challenge the EU’s principles of a world order based on peace, human rights, and peaceful cooperation. Two remaining external challenges which will determine Europe’s future are the bloc’s ability to overcome the pandemic and deal with massive migration flux. Only if we realise and agree that the threats to the EU are mostly external will we be able to remodel our economic and defensive security.

    Lawrence Gonzi, former Prime Minister of Malta: Our European project is unfinished. The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity for every one of us to help shape its next steps. The European Union was not designed to be a static entity, it has been and must keep evolving with the times. That is how Europe has weathered the storms we have lived through over the last decade. The financial, political, environmental, social, or health turbulence we have witnessed have all led to broad changes that have made our Union stronger. We know that the only way to get out of these situations is by common action and by using the lessons learned to strengthen our systems. We also know how important it is to listen – and that is largely what this exercise will entail.

    I share a number of critical analyses of the way the EU and its institutions sometimes operate – frustrating at times – but the bigger picture is always more important to consider.

    We do need a more effective, more flexible, Union – and our immediate challenge is to translate this to the health sector. What we did for Europe after the financial crisis needs to be replicated for health. We need to ensure our common security and foreign policy becomes more closely aligned and, most of all, we need to be able to respond quickly to our citizens’ concerns. We need to bring Europe closer to people and that is ultimately what this process is about.

    2. The audit of the functioning of the Union and the future of Europe is in the hands of EU citizens. They consider democracy, human rights, rule of law, but also the Union’s economic power as the greatest benefits of the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. Are these benefits sufficiently protected and resilient?

    Jan Krzysztof Bielecki: The benefits of democracy and rule of law are not adequately protected within the EU. Despite their status as core values, they are not enshrined in regulations and are, therefore, taken for granted. I would also add that internal and external forces are challenging European solidarity. In relation to external forces, an example would be the Belt and Road Initiative, a Chinese attempt to undermine EU integration. Nevertheless, pursuing bilateral ties with key European nations, rather than with the bloc, does not come as a novelty for Europe. It is a deadly game played by both the United States during the Trump Administration and Putin’s Russia.

    Therefore, Europe must develop its economic sovereignty. Becoming more resolute in defending the EU’s economic and social interests is an essential prerequisite to revitalise the European dream and win the renewed confidence of its citizens. We must think outside the box. In the next 20 years, Europe should be less open, less naïve, and guarded by a stronger regulatory framework managed by the European Commission and the member states.

    Level playing-field provisions must be protected, guaranteed and, if necessary, strongly defended. Europe is suffering from the economic pressure from China, where there is a new nationalist movement binding business and government together in an economic and ideological “War on the West.” If you add China’s rapid push to put arms in space, advancements in AI in order to control its citizens, and its threats of using military force against democratic Taiwan, it is clear Europe must be ready to take a robust stance alongside our American allies.

    A decade ago, the EU was dubbed the world’s primary “regulatory power”. Today, this is not enough because China has abandoned even the appearance of trying to play by such rules. Americans are responding by beefing up their “hard power” and taking sharp regulatory actions. In this battle between two global superpowers, Europe should quickly define how to protect its economic interests and assert its values. We must find our way.

    Lawrence Gonzi: It is positive that there is a convergence between what people consider to be the greatest benefits of the European Union and the values which our Union is built upon. The European Union is a strong economic bloc, but it is more than that. It is a guarantee that our values and way of life will be protected. It is a shared promise made to European citizens when their countries joined the bloc.

    What I have seen over the past years, to varying degrees, is a disconnect between what citizens expect from our EU and the tools that EU institutions have to meet those expectations. This is particularly the case with the institutions’ role in addressing deficiencies in the rule of law and democracy. We have our Article 7 procedure, which has proven perhaps less effective than we had envisaged. Soft measures like scoreboards or annual rule of law reports can be very useful, but when they fail to instigate sufficiently concrete results, then perhaps the time has come to look at our legislative armoury and react. When you look at media freedom for example, there is still insufficient EU-wide rules to protect journalists. When you look at our democracy protection toolbox, it is clear there are missing elements.

    On the other hand, the Union is more adapted to its economic prowess. This, again, was born out of crises – the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 COVID pandemic led to better and more cooperation. I would like to see more of this in other areas too, and perhaps outside the immediate response to a crisis.

    3. Could you, as an EU citizen, share your biggest concern and biggest dream when it comes to the future of Europe? What would be your advice to overcome such a concern and, on the other hand, how to achieve such a dream?

    Jan Krzysztof Bielecki: My biggest concern assumes that the bigger a crisis is, bigger are the regressive forces and more serious is the nature of the backlash. Do we have resilience against that? I doubt it. The cohesion of the Union is at stake. It means that every crisis of the last decade, due to the regressive nature of the reaction to it, plays out better for the wealthy and powerful countries and worse for the poor and the weak. Therefore, I am concerned whether the successful transformation of Central and Eastern European countries is sustainable and whether their “catching-up” with the West will succeed. My fear is that the pressures of the new challenges could lead Europe towards a future where we will have first-, second-, or even third-class Europeans.

    The biggest hope when it comes to the future of Europe is the next generation, both of individuals and of leaders, who are now replacing baby boomers (like the boomers replaced the war generation), and who are obliged to address external and internal challenges. Watching some of them, I am impressed. I believe that even in the days of limitless technology, which will enable complete control of citizens in the next 10-15 years, they will stick to the dreams of the founding fathers of European integration, based on peace and fundamental liberties.

    Lawrence Gonzi: One of my most worrying concerns is our ability to push back against the populist anti-EU narrative that takes hold so easily and so quickly. It is a concern tied to our complacency and the ease to which things can be taken for granted. The last generation of politicians to have experienced the nightmare of war first-hand have passed on their baton – and we need to keep showing and reminding people that ultimately, Europe is the world’s greatest peace project. This is not as easy as it may read.

    It is on all of our shoulders to make our voices heard in defence of strong value-based politics, or we risk getting drowned out by populism and extremism. This could have far-reaching social, political, and economic consequences for us all.

    My hope would be to see a Europe that is stronger and that respects the diversity that makes it so unique. A Europe that can respond quickly to shifting geo-political landscapes; that understands that it must keep evolving.

    We are emerging into a time of opportunity to rebuild and recommit. We are facing serious and different challenges from those we faced in the past. We need to come together like never before.  

    Mikuláš Dzurinda EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe

    Can the Conference on the Future of Europe Deliver Results? Episode 4

    Other News

    25 May 2021

  • 1. The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is expected to envision Europe’s future on a 20 to 30-year horizon. The years of various crises and the ongoing pandemic have shown that we need a more effective and rules-based European Union. Could such a Conference deliver effective results, extending beyond its mere intentions? 

    Jyrki Katainen, Former Prime Minister of Finland: Every now and then it is worthwhile to stop and reflect on which direction we want to go in. The world has changed, teaching us in many ways since we last had a coordinated and comprehensive process to assess the future of Europe. We have reformed the EU a great deal, speeding up our response during economic crises for instance, but it is now time to take a holistic view on our future.

    The Conference on the Future of Europe is an opportunity for new generation of Europeans to have their say on the direction of Europe. Additionally, these kinds of processes are usually useful exercises to recall the reasons for an integrated Europe, assess its strengths and weaknesses, as well as identify priorities for its further development.

    It is obvious that we cannot foresee everything we are going to face in the future, but we can learn from the past and make ourselves stronger, more resilient, and more capable to act.

    Wolfgang Schüssel, Former Chancellor of Austria: A realistic view on the Conference of Europe does not let us expect a major breakthrough, like the 2002-03 European Convention delivering a blueprint for far-reaching Treaty change. President Macron envisages to reach a result around the next French Presidential elections in 2022, a rather ambitious timetable. But despite these restrictions we can and should expect some serious achievements: an extended role of the European Institutions in fighting a pandemic crisis, and improving public health and producing vaccines; a courageous step forward in protecting our external borders; auditing and monitoring an effective use of huge EU recovery funds; achieving and keeping “Weltpolitikfähigkeit” (copyright Jean-Claude Juncker), a global presence and Union voice in CFS policy areas should be our main priority – meaning minimising unanimity voting. Finally, a network of “Wider Europe” (EU members, applicants, EEA, UK, Switzerland, Israel, and perhaps Russia, Ukraine and the Commonwealth of Independent States) would, in 2050, show us on equal economic terms with China and far ahead of the United States.

    2.The audit of the functioning of the Union and the future of Europe is in the hands of EU citizens. They consider democracy, human rights, rule of law, but also the Union’s economic power as the greatest benefits of the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. Are these benefits sufficiently protected and resilient? 

    Jyrki Katainen: Fundamental values are strong in the EU, but it must be said honestly that these values have been severely challenged by some member states during the last few years. This is obviously a challenge to the entire EU. Rule of Law is the basis for everything we do in the integrated Europe. Human dignity, civil rights and transparent administration on one hand, a free judiciary and media on the other form the basis on which we have developed the whole European way of living. Important achievements such as the Single Market, innovation policy and free movement of people, capital, and goods are based on these values.

    The EU is an economic superpower, which brings welfare to its citizens and business opportunities to its companies. Economic strength also gives us a strong hand in trade negotiations as well as in setting standards and regulations for commercial activities. Our standards often become global. The global economy will be shaped by two major drivers in the coming years. The need to de-couple economic growth from CO2 emissions, biodiversity loss, and over-consumption of natural resources is one of the major challenges, which needs a new type of economic thought. The market economy is still the basis on which the new economic model needs to be built. The market economy needs new incentives, rules, and values. Here, European regulatory power and its role as a strong trading bloc both play a significant role.

    Another disruptive force and a driver of economic growth will be the rise of the data economy. Currently, we live in a world where usage of data is based on practices and rules created by forerunning technology companies, which suits their own business models well. As the amount of data and use of data is rapidly increasing, it is necessary to create an ethically sound and fair basis for it. In other words, we need a rulebook and incentives to use data securely and fairly. Here again, the EU can be a forerunner and show the way for a new competitive and fair data economy.

    Wolfgang Schüssel: The EU will always be among the top 3 global leading entities – be it economically, politically, in life quality – as a regulatory power. The Union is unique in its human rights record and quality of democracy and rule of law. We, the member states, are certainly not perfect; but a bit more pride and less self-accusation would be appropriate. We are still a leading trade bloc; a completion of the Single Market will be the most effective growth and innovation engine. The creation of a common digital area and an EU cloud is necessary. Finding a functioning global balance between productive climate protection and the competitiveness of our European industry and economy is the major challenge for the foreseeable future.

    3.Could you, as an EU citizen, share your biggest concern and biggest dream when it comes to the future of Europe? What would be your advice to overcome such a concern and, on the other hand, how to achieve such a dream? 

    Jyrki Katainen: The biggest concern pertains to security challenges. Traditional security threats connected to cyber and hybrid threats form an entity which has become a more important issue to the future of Europe than before. Also, new technology and technological infrastructure can bring new challenges to European autonomy. Risks may appear, for example from excessive dependence on one technological solution which excludes the opportunity to change the service provider, thus strengthening monopolistic development.

    The ultimate dream is an EU that is a borderless, innovative, secure, and competitive Union of values which is a source of wellbeing. In this kind of Europe, the whole continent would offer unlimited opportunities to work, live, study, do business, and innovate, wherever each of us wants.

    To address concerns and achieve our dreams, we need to keep our value basis strong. We also need to deepen and widen the integration in the areas where integration does not yet function well but where it would bring benefits. We need to pay attention to new policy areas which are relevant for our future such as the data economy, the circular economy, and security. Finally, we must keep our public financing in good shape, because it is a way to secure welfare services for our citizens. In this, all the member states must do their homework. Irresponsible fiscal policy in one country cannot cause problems to others, because it would weaken the sense of unity and fairness.

    Wolfgang Schüssel: My biggest concern is to be sidelined in the ongoing struggle for supremacy between the US and China. My dream: to create a unique model – balancing subsidiarity and national/regional identity on one side with EU efficiency and the capacity to act where members are unable to handle situations alone. The main task for the Conference on the Future of Europe is to raise public awareness of the EU’s goals, priorities, and challenges, and to encourage citizens to participate in these debates. This Conference is a unique chance for such a far and deep-reaching discussion. Let me finally repeat an old idea – a better placed European Day. Not 9 May, which is always competing with the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps. A better option would be 25 March, commemorating the signing of the European Treaty of Rome in 1957. This day should be celebrated all over Europe, in schools, public broadcasting and TV stations, Parliaments, and everywhere else.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe

    Can the Conference on the Future of Europe Deliver Results? Episode 3

    Other News

    18 May 2021

  • 1.       The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is expected to envision Europe’s future on a 20 to 30-year horizon. The years of various crises and the ongoing pandemic have shown that we need a more effective and rules-based European Union. Could this Conference deliver effective results, extending beyond its mere intentions? 

    John Bruton, former Prime Minister of Ireland: The attempt to envision Europe’s future over such a long timeframe is very ambitious. The Conference will presumably draw on published materials and discuss the political consequences of the projections. This will be a useful exercise in public education, but it is unlikely that the Conference, given its diversity, will be able to agree on anything concrete.

    It is important to develop a sense of European or EU patriotism, or loyalty to the ideals that underlie the EU idea. Democratic participation is the best way to build such loyalty. I hope the Conference can do this.

    I have some doubts about how the Conference might develop, based on my experience of the Convention on the Future of Europe. There, the priorities of the organised participants were the enhancement of the relative power of their particular institution within the EU structure, rather than the enhancement of EU-wide democracy as such.

    For example, the idea of the direct election by the people of the Commission President, although mentioned in the mandate of the Convention, got little or no serious consideration. I assume that this was because a directly elected President would have diminished the relative power of the European Council and the European Parliament. The idea of an EU-wide election of some MEPs was not considered at all.

    Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister of Lithuania: The EU is a very specific and very successful organisation, which grows, develops, and becomes increasingly consolidated as it moves from one crisis to another, starting from its earliest stage, the Rome Treaty. “Europe will be forged in crises” was a prediction by Jean Monnet, one of the European Union’s founding fathers, “and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” The global financial crisis of 2008-2012 pushed the EU to create a real banking union, the refugee crisis of 2015 inspired the creation of Frontex, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout resulted in the unique financial instrument of the Recovery Fund, with new instruments for “mutual EU debt”.

    It is impossible to predict what kind of new crises the EU will face in the coming decades, but the EU should not be afraid to meet all those new challenges. The EU should not be afraid either to come out from each crisis having become more consolidated and more “federal”. This is a natural way of EU development and the Conference on the Future of Europe should praise such a perspective.

    The Conference on the Future of Europe should provide the answer to the biggest challenge of the future: how to prepare the EU for the next potential enlargement, since enlargement is the most important strategy to maintain peace and stability on the European continent. For that reason, there is a clear need for a structural change of decision-making procedures, moving onto a more democratic path, based on a majority voting principle.

    Herman Van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council, former Prime Minister of Belgium:  The Conference started in great ambiguity, both in terms of its leadership and its purpose. It should avoid solely listening to citizens’ concerns and questions. That is certainly necessary, but at the same time, it must also provide leadership regarding the substantive direction that the Union must take in the coming decades. A combination of bottom-up and top-down, of politics and policies. What are our priorities? The pandemic has taught us to cast taboos aside, such as the purely budgetary obsession, to see public goods like health, climate, and education as indispensable, to avoid Europe being too dependent on foreign countries and foreign companies in many areas, including the digital world. In all these areas, ‘more Europe’ is needed, not less. The pandemic is a wake-up call.

    2.       The audit of the functioning of the Union and the future of Europe is in the hands of EU citizens. They consider democracy, human rights, rule of law, but also the Union’s economic power as the greatest benefits of the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. Are these benefits sufficiently protected and resilient? 

    John Bruton: The issues around rule of law and democracy in Poland and Hungary are unresolved, so the answer to this question, at this stage, has to be “no”. Unfortunately, citizens are not always wise in their choices and can elect people who are not truly democratic. The basic test here is willingness to accept defeat when one has lost an election. Rule of law is fundamental; without it there can be no democracy. It requires an independent and brave judiciary. “Human rights”, on the other hand, mean different things to different people.

    For example, is there an agreed definition of the term “human”?  Is a living baby, as yet unborn, “human”? And if so, does it have a right to life, and if not, how would one describe it and does it have any rights of its own? 

    Does the existence of human rights imply concomitant human responsibilities, and if so what are they? Against whom should human rights be exercisable? The state? One’s family? The European Union? These are profound philosophical questions. I hope the Conference will address them honestly and humbly, because there are no easy answers.

    Andrius Kubilius: Democracy is facing two major challenges, both globally and within the EU: the first is erosion of democracy by populism in established democracies; the other is tectonic shifts inside the fundaments of a traditional democracy. Shifts are taking place in a modern post-industrial society, which is distinctly different from an industrial society when the rules of “traditional democracy” were established. Those two challenges are common for democracies on both sides of the Atlantic, in the “old Europe” and in the “new Europe”. On top of that, there is also a clear external global challenge: democracies need to prove that they are more effective than autocracies such as China, Russia, Belarus, or Iran.

    Democracy in the 21st century will need to “reinvent itself”, and the EU needs to be ready for this exercise. The EU can become more democratic if the decision-making process of EU institutions will become more democratic, more transparent, and more understandable. This can be achieved only with an evolutional shift towards a traditional “majority voting” in the decision-making system of the EU.

    Also, trust towards the EU is suffering. This happens because of the widening gap between peoples’ expectations from the EU and the very small resources that the EU possesses in order to deliver on these expectations. The Conference on the Future of Europe needs to agree on a 2% of GDP EU budget, instead of the current 1%. For EU Member States, their European financial obligations should be no less important than the obligations to NATO financial standards. The Recovery Fund is a good first step in that direction.

    Herman Van Rompuy: Many citizens feel inadequately protected by leaders active on all levels of governance, against all sorts of threats. They feel insufficiently protected against unemployment, employment precarity, irregular migration, climate change, terrorism, inequalities, corruption, pandemics, foreign invasions, fraud, financial instability, cyber-attacks, and more. Simultaneously, many are not sufficiently empowered to survive in a harsh, competitive world. Education is one means to palliate this. The EU must contribute to this protection within its current and future competences. Citizens demand results from policies. They want a democracy that delivers. At the same time, they want more control over the very distant European decision-making process. Citizens are alienated from policymakers at all levels of government, including the European level.  How to get citizens more involved with more impact and more grip?  If there is too little pressure from below, the bureaucratic, party-political, or institutional logic (the rivalry between Commission, Council, and Parliament) prevails. How to make all this concrete? That is what the Conference should be about.

    3.       Could you, as an EU citizen, share your biggest concern and biggest dream when it comes to the future of Europe? What would be your advice to overcome such a concern and, on the other hand, how to achieve such a dream? 

    John Bruton: Generally, I believe we make progress by small steps. Big dreams are to be avoided because they can often be a prelude to totalitarianism or populism.

    My biggest concern is the preservation of peace in Europe and the world. The institutions that help us preserve relative peace in our time are inherently fragile, and contingent on prudent leadership based on popular consent. This work will never end.

    Andrius Kubilius: My biggest concern is very simple – after 76 years of peace on the European continent, how long can this peace be sustained for? The EU was created as a project that enables peace in “old Europe”, stabilises democracies, and enlarges the area of that democratic stability. NATO was established as a project that defends the peace. Both those mega-projects where the products of visionary transatlantic leaders. And both projects were very successful in bringing and maintaining peace on the European continent.

    The only real threat to peace on the European continent comes from the authoritarian regime in Moscow. The only way to get rid of that threat is to assist the Russian people in their efforts to transform their country into a European-style democracy. Democracies are not fighting each other. Democracy in Russia is possible in the same way as it is possible in Ukraine or Belarus.

    Ukraine’s success in reforming itself into successful European democracy can become the strongest inspiration for the Russian people to follow the same path. Ukraine’s success can be realised only if its integration project towards the EU becomes ambitious on both sides – Ukraine and the EU.

    EU enlargement and the European integration of Ukraine and of other Eastern Partnership countries is the only EU geopolitical strategy on how to transform the entire Eastern part of the European continent (including Russia) into a democratic and peaceful region. This is the only way peace in Europe can continue for at least another 75 years. And that is why this is of the same strategic importance as the creation of the EU or NATO after the Second World War.

    This is also my biggest personal dream – I hope that in my lifetime, I will be able to see Ukraine become a member of the EU and Russia transform itself into a democracy. It will mean that my children and grandchildren will be able to live in a peaceful neighbourhood.

    Herman Van Rompuy: My greatest concern is that the citizens of our nations let themselves be seduced by real or disguised extremists who undermine the Union and the solidarity it needs. Moreover, populism is not supportive of democracy. We shouldn’t fall into the Trump-trap: politicising everything. When everything becomes political, that’s the end of politics. That is why it is vital for policies to produce results in priority areas for many citizens, and for those same citizens to become more involved in those policies: an ‘input and output democracy’. How to bring the methods and the spirit of local government where alienation is less, to the higher level, including the European one?  A continent like ours that is dominated by fear and uncertainty cannot play a geopolitical role. External clout depends on internal stability and strength.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe

    Can the Conference on the Future of Europe Deliver Results? Episode 2

    Other News

    10 May 2021

  • 1.       The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is expected to envision Europe’s future on a 20 to 30-year horizon. The years of various crises and the ongoing pandemic have shown that we need a more effective and rules-based European Union. Could this Conference deliver effective results, extending beyond its mere intentions? 

    José María Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain: The Conference on the Future of Europe has to show that the future is Europe. The objectives of the Conference are very worthwhile and necessary, but its results will remain in the realm of mere management if the political will necessary for the substantive reform that is essential for our future does not emerge. For the Conference to deliver effective results, it must first build the political will to succeed in advance.

    The future of Europe depends on our ability to build a common sensibility as Europeans, a difficult but not impossible task, and on the Union’s response to the  major challenges it faces: 1) economic downturn, a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic; 2)  the structural challenges provoked by Brexit; 3) the ideological challenge provoked by populist and authoritarian movements within many member states; 4) the institutional challenge, the intra- institutional relationship between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council.

    One of the consequences of the most recent European Elections is the disappearance of the great coalition between the Social Democrats and the European People’s Party, which was, until now, the basis for European institutions. The European Parliament might have a weaker and less proactive institutional role, as it faces fresh difficulties in building up majorities. We are moving towards a more intergovernmental Europe. The CoFoE must re-think the role of Parliament and the Commission, because the decision-making centre will be in the Council and in the capitals of the member states.

    Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of The Netherlands: The start of the CoFoE was not convincing. It took a long time to get started and there was endless squabbling over who should hold the Presidency. It is therefore a bad start and it is necessary to quickly strengthen the credibility of this initiative. There is also every reason to do so. If the corona crisis, climate change, geopolitical power shifts, the migration issue, the security situation, and competitive relations show one thing, it is that the future of Europe and the European Union within it depends on a vision of said future, joining forces and fostering unity. The biggest mistake Europe can make is to wait, to be at the mercy of geopolitical struggles elsewhere and a lack of dynamism, both internal and external.

    If the Conference is to become meaningful, a detailed analysis must be made of where Europe now stands, a renewed common perspective for the future must be offered, and a programme proposal must be developed with concrete actions. The Conference should inspire, through a European ideal based on European values. What drives us as Europeans and what kind of world do we want for generations to come? The Conference must innovate by providing new insights and ideas that will give impetus to practical steps to move Europe forward. Which concrete actions are necessary? The Conference must challenge implementation by means of clear step-by-step plans. What are we going to do in concrete terms? Intentions have no meaning without actions and implementation. The success of the Conference will depend on the realisation of inspiration, innovation and implementation.

    Antonis Samaras, Former Prime Minister of Greece: A political entity – a state or a Union – can only survive if it has clearly defined rules and clearly defined priorities. Both rules and (political) priorities jointly define who we are, our unity, and our character. We cannot have rules without priorities, and we cannot have priorities, without rules. We need both.  As reality evolves within our societies and around us, our priorities change, and our set of rules should accommodate this evolution. If our set of rules is too stringent or “inflexible”, we will not evolve. On the other hand, if our rules are very “lax”, there is a chance that we will might evolve towards different “paths”, or disintegrate. So, we need to promptly adjust both our rules and our priorities. We must also make them mutually compatible. Unfortunately, the way we handled the pandemic crisis was not very “flattering” for the way our rules operate in the face of such challenges. The way we handled the influx of illegal immigrants, or Turkey, or Ukraine, does not flatter our geopolitical priorities. We have a lot to learn from our current problems, a lot of reflection to do regarding our perspectives, and a lot of restructuring must take place in our internal framework…

    2.       The audit of the functioning of the Union and the future of Europe is in the hands of EU citizens. They consider democracy, human rights, rule of law, but also the Union’s economic power as the greatest benefits of the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey. Are these benefits sufficiently protected and resilient? 

    José María Aznar: These benefits are sufficiently protected and resilient because the EU is first and foremost a normative power. The EU’s economic power is enormous. Today, the European Single Market is the largest barrier-free economic area in the world, encompassing more than 500 million citizens with a gross domestic product (GDP) of around 13 trillion euros. Since its creation, the EU has been, for its member states, the main basis for peace, security, and prosperity. In this sense, the EU is a success story. That is why, for many years, we took the European project for granted. We convinced ourselves that the successful integration of European nations could not be reversed because it was, in fact, responsible for our development and our greatest achievements.  And so, it was. But it must be underlined that the benefits that the EU has created for its member states are under attack from within and from outside, and its resistance must be solidified.

    The credibility of the democratic and representative process of the institutions of European societies has eroded, as well as their ability to generate prosperity and create opportunities. Populist parties have capitalised on the political and electoral effects of it. Now, the enemies of the liberal order are stronger than in the past because they are joining forces against us. Perhaps not all populist movements are the same, and maybe there are some differences between nationalists and separatists in different countries. But they agree in their hatred against the EU because it is the most successful integration process and the best example of what liberal democracy, social economy, free trade, and globalisation can achieve if they are effectively supported by political reforms.

    Jan Peter Balkenende: Europe has brought a lot to its citizens: peace, human rights, democracy, prosperity, solidarity, equal treatment, food security, economic unification, legal certainty. Tremendous achievements that are sometimes better perceived by people outside the European Union than by those who are part of Europe. In addition to these achievements, it must also be noted that there are concerns: the Stability and Growth Pact was not sufficiently complied with, concerns about the lack of the rule of law are increasing in several countries, there are concerns about the functioning of democratic institutions, the need for reforms is interpreted differently, and solidarity between countries appears to be unruly. The CoFoE can strengthen the credibility of the European project by thoroughly discussing the critical points and making proposals for reinforcement. Where human rights and democracy are being tormented worldwide, Europe must take criticism of its own functioning seriously and work towards improvement, by hearing the voices of citizens, by tackling errors in a credible way and by always keeping an eye on achieving results. With this the European project can be made resilient.

    Antonis Samaras: Yes, these are the cornerstones that define our collective culture, who we are, how we have evolved through history and where we are going. And no, we should not take them for granted! Because they run the risk of being eroded, by groups of the authoritarian alt-right who undermine democracy, or by the “politically correct” extreme left, who undermine social cohesion. We need a “new growth agenda”, to improve competitiveness through restructuring; we need a new “progressive agenda” to maintain democracy through growth; and we also need a “new conservative agenda”, to maintain social cohesion through change. We definitely need new geopolitical priorities, vast domestic reforms, and protection of economic prospects for our middle classes. Europe will never inspire its citizens at home, unless it gains international respect beyond its borders. The European project can either shine or shrink! So, let’s make it shine again. As it deserves…

    3.       Could you, as an EU citizen, share your biggest concern and biggest dream when it comes to the future of Europe? What would be your advice to overcome such a concern and, on the other hand, how to achieve such a dream? 

    José María Aznar: As an EU citizen, I am concerned about the political, social, and economic consequences of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, on which Europe’s immediate future and its resilience depends. In the longer term, I am concerned about the European Union’s place in the world. The international liberal order is changing due to the pandemic and to other internal challenges such as authoritarianism, neo-totalitarianism, illiberal democracies, populism, the rise of revisionist powers, etc. The EU, in order to occupy an important place in the world, must strengthen its ties with the US and the transatlantic relationship; this is not a dream, but a historical fact and experience.

    I believe that the history of the EU is a great success story. European success cannot be explained without the success of the Atlantic policy, it cannot be explained without the Atlantic relationship, and it cannot be explained without our American friends and allies. The Atlantic pact is more than a military pact, it is also a political, cultural, or historical commitment to act together, the United States, Europe, and our other allies. It is not just a geographical concept, it is a pact based on values which have underpinned the greatest expansion of freedom, prosperity, and democracy in the history of the world. Therefore, presenting these values and preserving what these Atlantic values mean seems to me to be a crucial task, to achieve an important EU role in the international liberal order and turn Europe into our common future.

    Jan Peter Balkenende: My main concern is that Europe is losing opportunities for the future due to a lack of urgency, internal division, allowing things to run their course without tackling them, too little regard for the common interest, and too much regard for purely national interests. This danger affects all areas: economy, security, migration, environment. However, Europe has shown at crucial times that new perspectives could be developed through cooperation. That is also possible now! My biggest dream is for Europe to become a world-class player by taking the lead in building a better world. The global agenda is embedded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, tackling the climate issue, building a circular economy, and tackling inequality. That agenda offers hope for the future. European values, the concept of a social and environmental market economy and Rhineland thinking can be a source of inspiration in taking that lead. We must work with inspiration and passion on a new European ideal!

    Antonis Samaras: My biggest concern is that Europe might become “irrelevant” vis-aa-vis the rest of the world, from a geopolitical perspective. Or “irrelevant” to its own citizens, from a growth and domestic prosperity perspective. My biggest hope is that we will eventually break away from present-day deadlocks and re-inspire our citizens. We need a new policy to build new infrastructure and handle debt. We need a new policy for our middle classes to adjust to the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need a new policy for energy sufficiency and energy supply safety for the coming decades. We need a new policy for illegal immigrants and internal security. We need a policy for defending our common European borders. We need to understand that unity and integration within Europe cannot proceed without controlling our limits and expanding our influence beyond our limits! If we lose control on our hinterland, we will fracture and dissolve. We need a new policy for projecting our security priorities abroad. We need to show that the European project is a shining paradigm, generating freedom, growth, and prosperity for the European peoples – and hope for its allies… We need a new social pact with our citizens and a new credibility pact with our allies abroad. The European project has come a long way so far. And it has a long way to go, in the future. We must reshape it and re-launch it! And we have to do it fast. 

    Mikuláš Dzurinda EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe

    Can the Conference on the Future of Europe Deliver Results?

    Other News

    03 May 2021

  • A strong Europe needs the support of national, regional, and local politicians, as much as strong municipalities in Europe need a strong umbrella like the EU. Unfortunately, the EU’s credibility has been increasingly suffering due to the Euro crisis of the early 2010s, the migration crisis of the mid-2010s, and now the pandemic of the early 2020s. European citizens were unsatisfied with the results and the work of the EU in managing these three crises.

    Especially when it comes to COVID-19, the Commission has faced severe criticism for the slow vaccine rollout. According to recent data, less than 20% of EU citizens have so far received their first jab, compared with 60% of British adults and more than 50% of US citizens. From an economic perspective, the EU also lags behind: in the last quarter of 2020, the US economy grew by 4,1% and China’s growth was 6,5%, while our economy was still shrinking. If the EU does not start doing a better job, we will soon face the next crisis – a crisis of the European political system, which is losing the confidence of its citizens and even of national parliamentarians.

    What do we need for a stronger Europe? And what can municipalities do to help build it? To begin with, the EU needs more democratic legitimacy. Mayors and regional parliamentarians have a great deal of legitimacy, enjoying a higher level of citizens’ trust than either national or EU authorities. Therefore, the European Commission, which is appointed, also needs the support of national parliaments and regional and local entities such as municipal governments to get legitimacy. Moreover, the EU needs more transparency in all phases of the legislative process to re-establish its credibility. Finally, the EU needs a stronger involvement of citizens but also of national parliaments and regional representatives in the legislative process. In other words: the EU needs more subsidiarity!

    However, we currently see the opposite: the influence of national and regional parliamentarians has decreased year by year, as proven by two examples. First, we have more and more EU regulations, with less and less directives. In the year 2000, we had sixteen regulations and thirty-nine directives. In the year 2017, we had fifty-two regulations and only fourteen directives. In the year 2020, the numbers were forty-six regulations and only five directives. Directives, unlike regulations, give national parliaments and regional legislative assemblies the chance to be fully involved as lawmakers in the legislative procedure. This means that, over the last 20 years, there was a silent but important transformation, weakening national and regional legislation and transferring power to Brussels. We see three times more regulations than in 2000, a development that threatens the principle of subsidiarity and causes more centralism and overregulation.

    Second, we observe the same upward trend in the number of delegated acts, which are not subject to subsidiarity scrutiny by national parliaments. The number of delegated legal acts increased from thirty-eight in 2012 to a hundred and sixteen in 2018, reaching a hundred and twenty-five in 2020. National parliaments and regions are not involved in this procedure and with such delegated legal acts, the EU Commission intervenes in national politics with far-reaching consequences without solid controls about the added value of its actions.

    We should also mention that there has been a strong reduction of ‘subsidiarity complaints’ by national parliaments. National parliaments have the right to submit a reasoned opinion (a ‘subsidiarity complaint’) whenever they consider that draft legislative acts do not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. The Commission must take account of the reasoned opinions it receives and, if they exceed a certain number, must review its proposal. This is known as the ‘yellow card’ procedure. In 2013 there were eighty-three such opinions, in 2017 forty-eight, in 2018 forty-three, while they had dropped to zero in 2019 and amounted to only twelve in 2020.

    The reason is simple: national parliaments have realised that this ‘yellow card’ procedure does not work properly. So far, there were no direct effects on the outcome of any legal act, even in the few instances when the ‘yellow card’ threshold was reached. Therefore, we should rethink the procedure if we really mean it to work and are serious about strengthening the role of national and local parliamentarians in EU decision-making.

    I am a strong supporter of European integration. Those who, like me, care about its prospects should agree that we could bring the EU much closer to citizens by putting the principle of subsidiarity into effect in more practical ways. In 2018, the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and ‘Doing Less More Efficiently’, of which I was a member, already elaborated valuable recommendations in this regard, especially with a view to better involving the regional and local levels. Mayors and municipal council members should play – like national parliamentarians – a more important role.

    Unfortunately, preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is scheduled to start soon, in May 2021, confirm my scepticism. Subsidiarity is not a priority on its agenda. The Committee of the Regions is not invited to participate as a member in the Executive Board but is only represented by an observer. National parliaments too can only take part in an observer capacity via the COSAC troika. I am an optimist by nature, but, as far as the real importance attributed to the principle of subsidiarity in the EU goes, I cannot help feeling increasingly pessimistic.  

    Reinhold Lopatka EU Institutions European Union Subsidiarity

    Reinhold Lopatka

    Strong Subsidiarity, Strong Europe


    27 Apr 2021

  • Do you expect the Conference on the Future of Europe to be a real turning point for democratic participation in the EU? Or will it rather be a modest consultation exercise that will not fundamentally change citizens’ relationship with the Union?  

    Alexander Stubb, Director of the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, Former Prime Minister of Finland : ‘I think it too early to say. This could potentially be one of those ‘low expectations, high outcome’-events. A bit of an opposite to the Constitutional Convention in early 2000, which kicked off with fanfare, but hit the wall in a couple of referenda. I hope there is grassroots engagement, but time will tell. The key will be the use of modern technology and ‘sexy’ platforms, which would make engagement interesting and meaningful. Fake participation won’t fly.’ 

    John Bruton, Member of the Martens Centre Honorary Board, Former Prime Minister of Ireland : ‘It is difficult to say. My experience of the last Convention is that inter-institutional rivalries and ambitions take precedence over enhanced democratic participation. In the Convention, I put forward a proposal for the election of the President of the Commission by the EU electorate (while leaving the rest of the Commission to be appointed under the existing system). This proposal got no support, I suspect, because all the EU institutions, including the Parliament, felt it would diminish their influence.’

    Many important actors remain convinced that the so-called ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system is the best way to select the next President of the European Commission in 2024, despite its failure to deliver in 2019. Do you agree with them? If so, how would you change the system to make sure it proves workable next time?

    Alexander Stubb: ‘Having participated in the race the last time around, I am naturally a supporter of the system. At the same time, I will be the first to admit that we are a far cry from US-style primaries or presidential elections. I guess we just have to be honest and say that our system is a hybrid. As a former Prime Minister, I understand why heads of state and government in the European Council are reluctant to delegate the power of nomination to a process which is essentially not in their control. At this stage, I do not have a suggestion on how to improve the system.’

    John Bruton: ‘I think the Spitzenkandidat proposal was an incoherent compromise. Why should the biggest group in the Parliament, which could have as little as 20% of all the seats, have the privilege of nominating the President of the Commission? That is not true democracy. As I said above, the President of the Commission should instead be directly elected by the people, but candidates eligible to go before EU electors ought to have been nominated by parties that have both at least 8% of all MEPs, and are also represented by more than 5% of the MPs in at least 10 national parliaments.’

    Transnational lists are seen by many as necessary to enhancing the European dimension of EU elections. Others, however, fear they will end up favouring candidates from big member states and increasing the distance between citizens and MEPs. Would you support their introduction? How should they function?

    Alexander Stubb: ‘To be frank, I am not a huge fan of transnational lists. I guess I should be, because of my pro-European, federalist instincts. I really don’t know why I am not too excited about them, perhaps because I come from a small state. Let me be a little provocative here. I think we should scrap lists in which national parties decide the order of the candidates. Go for real democracy, not party democracy. Go for real competition. This would essentially mean that candidates have to fight for public space, and yes publicity, not party favours. This change would make the EP elections more interesting than transnational lists.’

    John Bruton: ‘I am in favour of this proposal. But I doubt existing MEPs would accept it. I do not believe it will favour big states in practice.’

    Is there any other institutional innovation that you would consider necessary to strengthening democratic participation and legitimacy in the EU ahead of the 2024 European elections (e.g. providing for stronger European political parties, reinforcing the role of national parliaments, etc…)?

    Alexander Stubb: ‘We need to think outside the box here. Therefore, provocation number two: make e-voting possible across the board. I would love to see the first transnational, cross-continental elections in the world taking place in the EP elections. It would be the new 1979 moment, when direct elections became possible. And if I may, I am not sure European citizens are that keen on party structures, national or European. People vote for people, not parties. People vote on the basis of issues, not party affiliation. Sorry to be so blunt.’     

    John Bruton: ‘I have no other suggestions. The EU is a big institution with a big population so some distance between electorates and decision-makers is inevitable, and the only way I see to bridge the gap is the direct election of the President of the Commission. Maybe we should try it for one Parliamentary term as an experiment.’

    Federico Ottavio Reho EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Leadership

    Can the Conference on the Future of Europe be a turning point for democratic participation in the EU?

    Other News

    29 Mar 2021

  • Advent has commenced; the historically black year of 2020 is coming to an end; winter is coming.

    Change in the EU Council is also on the horizon: very soon, the strong, conservative leadership of Germany and Chancellor Merkel will be in the EU’s archives, and a very different country, with a very different government, will take the lead: Portugal.

    From the biggest demographic and economic power of Europe, to a medium-small size, struggling economy; from the geographical heart of Europe, to one of the most remote corners of the continent; from the main conservative figure of the 21st century in the EU, to a relatively weak socialist government (in office since November 2015 as a minority government), sustained on several fronts by the Portuguese communists. The switch will be significant, there can be no doubt about it, even if the Portuguese authorities insist on a smooth transition and common-interest projects to be continued.

    2020 will not be remembered for any positive reason almost anywhere on the planet; this will not be any different in Europe. COVID-19 has delivered a health, economic, and social crisis within the EU that has only amplified the fractures and structural problems of an already turbulent Union. Together with a potential ‘No-Deal’ Brexit, the fundamental issues in some Member States around the Rule of Law, the instability in our neighbourhood (Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey, Armenia, etc.), the European Union’s most fundamental principles have been challenged and put to the test, sometimes even being temporarily suspended (Schengen). Therefore, the two European Council Presidencies of the year have had a tremendous handicap to overcome in order to make any progress regarding deeper integration, economic development, or even enlargement discussions. Despite this, both Croatia (first-ever EUCO presidency for the Balkan country) and Germany (led by the ever-popular Merkel) have delivered a great amount of quality work and progress in some key fields, such as Europe’s Security and Defence Policy (Strategic Compass), or a big step towards future enlargement in the Western Balkans.

    Two very different countries, with different leaderships and approaches, but within a common roadmap, vision, and political umbrella: the European People’s Party, the heart of conservative moderates of the continent. They started working long before 2020 to prepare the task they were given and, despite COVID-19 and the global collapse, they delivered, my goodness did they deliver!

    Now, especially after the European ‘Goliath’, by all metrics (economic, demographic, political), we transition to a European Council leadership in the hands of a socialist minority government that took office five years ago after losing the election to a conservative alliance. This was only possible thanks to the votes of the Communist Party and rejection of any possible moderate coalition with the Portuguese conservative coalition of Portugal Ahead (PàF) and Social Democrat Party (PSD).

    Portugal now has the 3rd largest debt burden of the EU, with one of the labour markets most affected by COVID-19, and a rather weak government. Therefore, the country doesn’t seem to be the ‘underdog David’ that would receive the German legacy and overshadow it with an outstanding Presidency. In any case, there are some factors that play in Portugal’s favour, which their EUCO presidency will use to advocate for this ‘David/giant-killer’ condition. Firstly, Portugal will emphasise its satisfactory management of the pandemic, especially during the 1st wave (aided by their natural geographic isolation), and secondly, benefitting from international markets, its positive economic evolution since the announcement of an available vaccine from early 2021. Portugal will probably jump into a current of strong economic recovery, progressive re-opening of all industrial European sectors, and the arrival of the first billions of euros from the EU Recovery Fund. This means that, even if once again only thanks to the great work done by the EPP-family governments and with a great amount of luck (Portugal was able to navigate the post-financial crisis very well thanks to the previous conservative government’s efforts), they will be able to work in a much more stable, optimistic, and economically promising environment.

    We are all used to seeing how the European left takes credit for the hard work done by EPP governments, and this time won’t be any exception. Despite the unfairness of the whole situation, Europe could use a ‘David’ in these turbulent times. Will Portugal or Slovenia embrace that role? Let’s pray they will.

    Álvaro de la Cruz EU Institutions European People's Party

    Álvaro de la Cruz

    From Goliath to David?


    14 Dec 2020

  • To me, it seems we can no longer go on this way. By this, I mean the disagreements about basic principles that we should all be able to believe in. For us Europeans, a greater threat than the coronavirus pandemic is posed by our inability to act in a number of important areas. Areas that are essential to the future survival of the European Union.

    For years, we have not been able to address the rule of law violations by several member states. The most striking cases are those of Hungary and Poland. Beautiful countries I know well from my time leading Slovakia into the EU and NATO in the 2000s. True, the European institutions initiated proceedings against the two countries (Article 7). But these proceedings had no practical result because the potential sanctioning of the “accused” requires a unanimous decision by all Member States. It therefore became another example of the EU failing to adhere to its basic founding principles.

    And as a result, Europe risks crumbling from within.

    Being aware of this paradox, the European Council and the European Parliament have attempted to make the drawing of funds from the future EU budget and the Recovery Fund conditional on the respect of rule of law principles. But again, as the budget is also adopted by unanimity of all Member States, this is like moving from the frying pan into the fire. The problem has been neither resolved nor simplified. Instead it has been amplified and broadcast as another signal of Europe’s collective weakness.

    Likewise, the bravery, resolve, and strength of the revolutionary movement in Belarus compares to the unwieldy and inconsistent imposition of our sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. This comparison shows just how difficult it is to seek consensus on foreign policy issues, even in cases where the bottom line is basic democratic rights. The European Commission also recently put forward a new draft European Asylum Policy. The prospects of its practical application are very hazy. Not only because we do not have the tools and the courage to tackle the root causes of illegal immigration, but also because the agreement on this issue requires the consensus of all 27 Member States.

    And we used to think that the British were the problem in EU decision-making?

    The diagnosis of the condition which we are in today is bleak, but it is also quite clear: the EU is unable to make decisions in the areas that are vital for its sustainability and future.

    We have reached a point when, with some embarrassment, we hear the Ukrainian president say that Ukraine is more European than some EU countries.

    The disconnect between the EU’s ambitions and its actual reality has never been greater.

    Europe, it seems, is addicted to grand plans and lofty-sounding strategies. But while we are busy developing public consultations, Erdoğan is laughing at us in the Mediterranean and threatening to send us illegal migrants whenever it suits him. We agreed on enhanced cooperation in the field of defence, but over-indebted Greece is compelled to buy new fighter planes to be able to avert Turkish threats. The mention of frozen conflicts, like the one in Cyprus (already 46 years old), seems all too obvious. Europe still stands on the sidelines (and sometimes on opposing sides) as the chaos and destruction continue in Libya.

    Indeed, our greatest enemy is not COVID-19. It is our inability to take decisions. Our greatest enemy is the unanimity rule requiring the consent of all Member States in areas which, by virtue of their nature and the constitutional principle of subsidiarity, belong much more to the Community level than the national one.

    We are facing a monumental challenge – to change the decision-making rules in the mentioned fields. Its enormity stems from the fact that this would also require the consensus or unanimity of all 27 EU Member States. But such consensus will inevitably have to be found. At any price. Because the current costs are simply too high to bear. It may be necessary to look for a solution even outside the treaties which are currently in force. Passivity now is simply an excuse for inaction. Europe’s only hope is to shape its future in its own hands.

    Germany should raise the banner. Not because it holds the EU presidency, but because our fate, and theirs, are now hopelessly intertwined.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Institutions Values

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    Europe risks crumbling from within


    29 Oct 2020

  • Petri Sarvamaa is Roland’s surprise guest this time! Watch the EPP Group MEP’s answers on Rule of Law across the EU including his country, Finland, which should be the institution ensuring it, and how does Putin’s Russia see the debate.

    Roland Freudenstein EU Institutions EU Member States EU-Russia

    The Week in 7 Questions with Petri Sarvamaa

    Multimedia - Other videos

    16 Oct 2020

  • All eyes on Germany as it takes over the Council Presidency, in particularly challenging times: fighting the pandemic, practising solidarity in the economic crisis, and living up to our ambition to become a global player – these are just the most pressing challenges the Council Presidency will have to deal with.

    Europe is facing the biggest economic crisis since its foundation, with member states having to agree on the next multiannual financial framework (MFF). Although the Presidency will be dominated by monetary discussions, Germany will also take on the issues of the environment, migration and Brexit 2.0.

    Can the EU step up its game and shoulder joint debts, while simultaneously designing the new budget in such a way that it serves as an investment in the future and not as a return of old debts? How can the Rule of Law be strengthened while we need unanimity on the budget? And how can we tackle EU-China relations?

    Roland Freudenstein EU Institutions European People's Party

    Online Event: ‘Berlin Calling: 6 Months to Lead the Union’

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    23 Jul 2020

  • Almost two decades after the European Council summit in Thessaloniki, the promise of EU membership remains unfulfilled in the Western Balkans. Although the process of EU accession is continuing, the current pace throws the Thessaloniki promise into doubt. Despite initial success, the current approach to enlargement has reached its limits, as it seems to be slowing down the integration process rather than accelerating it. At the same time, the transformative power of the EU is too weak to positively impact on democratic and economic setbacks in the region. That is why this article considers various strategies that the EU could employ to recalibrate the accession of the Western Balkans, notwithstanding the need for sincere reforms in the aspiring member states.

    Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Marko Kmezić Democracy Enlargement EU Institutions European Union

    Marko Kmezić

    Recalibrating the EU’s Approach to the Western Balkans


    15 Jul 2020

  • Will populism turn out to be one of the ‘victims’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many commentators have claimed?

    Angelos Chryssogelos, Assistant Professor in Politics and International Relations, London Metropolitan University:

    “I don’t think the question of populism should be treated in binary terms, i.e. will it go up or down after the crisis. The pandemic will be bad for certain populists while providing opportunities for others. We need only think back ten years to the Great Recession: the economic crisis boosted left-wing populism – up until then a marginal force – in countries like Spain and Greece, while established populist parties like the FN in France failed to capitalise on it. It now appears that the pandemic will be bad for some populists like Trump while others, like Erdoğan in Turkey and PiS in Poland, may overcome it. I think that Europe dodged a major bullet with the Five Star Movement in Italy. The pandemic crisis would be an ideal event for a non-ideological populist party dominated by conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and generally unstable characters. Luckily, the 5SM is in government during this crisis, so it no longer has the credibility to express these feelings. Nevertheless, I think this provides a blueprint for anti-establishment politics in an era when vaccines and tracing apps will be major policy issues, and I expect this will be replicated elsewhere. Unfortunately, this brand of populism is much more dangerous and corrosive than the typical populist radical right, who at least has a core of identifiable ideological beliefs that make it more predictable and conventional.”

    Dalibor Roháč, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute:

    “So far, I have seen little evidence of that. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the crisis might end up strengthening populist, anti-establishment forces. The mechanisms for this are manifold. Firstly, given the inherent uncertainty about the virus, especially at the early stages of the pandemic, public health officials and experts were inevitably making mistakes. The seasonal flu is more dangerous than COVID-19, we were told. In America, President Trump’s ban on travel from China (which included a variety of loopholes) was decried as fomenting Sinophobia. Experts initially advised against wearing facemasks. Worse yet, while many of these judgement errors were made in good faith, some seem correlated with political ideology, such as the muted reaction of experts to the wave of Black Lives Matter protests, which swept across the Western world. Secondly, we have yet to assess the magnitude of the economic fallout from the lockdowns –past experience suggests that support for populism rises in periods of financial distress. Moreover, the costs of lockdown might very well affect people unevenly. Individuals in ‘elite’, high-education occupations might be in a better position to work from home for extended periods of time than those in blue-collar professions. The combination of perceptions of the inadequate, self-serving expert class, and the uneven material impact of the pandemic, makes for a potentially toxic political mix.”

    What are the stakes of the extraordinary European Council called on 17-18 July from the point of view of the EU’s political legitimacy? In what ways will its results (or lack thereof) matter?

    Angelos Chryssogelos: “How many ‘make-or-break’ European Councils have there been in the last decade? I’m sure they number in the dozens at this point. I’ve long been sceptical that any singular EU decision truly affects the long-term legitimacy or sustainability of the European project. As the economic and refugee crisis demonstrated, national political elites (because this is what we ultimately mean when we say ‘the EU’) are very much interlocked together as they navigate major policy crises on the one hand, and restive public opinions on the other. The setting of EU institutions provides them with opportunities to blow steam through the theatricality of ‘tough negotiations’, while finding ways to tame the effects of crises that no country on its own could cope with. If no solution is found in one Council, then you quite simply move on to the next one. In this sense, preoccupation with high-minded ideas, like the ‘legitimacy of the European project’ is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Should polls be accurate, and the majority of European citizens are indeed unconcerned about the EU either way, why elevate it to a major stake of European politics? Succeeding in taming the pandemic crisis’ economic effects will not vindicate an abstract ‘Europe’, any more than failure to come to an agreement in the July Council will prove that European integration has been a failure. If a deal is found in July for the recovery fund, great. If not, move on to the next meeting. The show will go on either way.”

    Dalibor Roháč: “The EU’s political legitimacy does not stand and fall with one summit. However, the gravity of this moment cannot be underestimated, as the pandemic has hit European economies at a time when many were already carrying a large debt overhang. Unless mitigated through action at the EU level, the solvency of some member states would be threatened. Fundamentally, the principles underpinning the single market themselves would be in danger. With the relaxation of state aid rules, some countries are in a much better position to help domestic businesses that find themselves in distress. The crisis could thus leave Europe with a dramatically uneven playing field. The longer the implementation of the recovery package takes, the greater the risks. At a basic level, the summit is therefore a test of whether European leaders are genuinely committed to the European project. To be sure, bargaining and seeking the best deal for voters in their respective countries is expected. The final product will necessarily be a compromise, ridden with imperfections. But the question is whether European leaders will be able to rise above the more parochial questions of who gets how much and with what strings attached, and to approach the exercise as one that will set a precedent for years to come.”

    Crisis EU Institutions EU Member States Euroscepticism

    How is the COVID-19 crisis affecting EU legitimacy?

    Other News

    08 Jul 2020

  • EU leaders seem to have agreed, at least in principle, that an ambitious recovery plan financed by EU bonds should be introduced and that the EU should have more competencies in the area of health care. Do you think the COVID-19 crisis is rekindling some federalist ambitions in the EU?

    Lawrence Gonzi, Former Prime Minister of Malta:

    “Rather than European federalism, I prefer to look at this as a question of European solidarity in practice. It is the realisation that we are all in this together, and we can only get out of it together. The recovery plan is welcomed – it is the response to calls for Europe to do whatever it takes. There are issues being negotiated that still need to be defined, so while this is welcome in principle, we have to ensure that all Member States’ red lines on taxation and competitiveness, for example, are respected. But even with these outstanding issues, Europe is in a strong position, and there is a clear path for this recovery package to move forward. This is a unique opportunity to revitalise Europe’s economy, making it fairer, greener, and more sustainable for all of us. We should not waste it.”

    Andrius Kubilius, Former Prime Minister of Lithuania:

    “If by federalist ambition, we understand that some new European-wide instruments were created to fight the crisis, then we need to agree that since the Treaty of Rome, each crisis was pushing the European Community towards federalist ambition. Yet this is exactly what Jean Monet predicted: ‘Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises’.”

    Herman Van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council, Former Prime Minister of Belgium:

    “I myself was not a big fan of the original plans for a Conference on the Future of Europe. I am in favour of it now, because this crisis has shown to citizens that ‘more Europe’ is needed. They found it strange that there were different kinds of politics in the Union regarding the virus, and they found it strange that borders were being closed and opened in a selective and dispersed manner. Many wondered where Europe was. They were unaware that the EU simply did not have competence for health. Europe is not a super-state! It also becomes clear that the EU is very dependent on medical supplies from abroad, especially China. We are already dependent on non-Europeans for digital platforms, energy, defence, and poorly protected external borders. Will we also be externally dependent for food tomorrow? The theme of European sovereignty has been raised; the conference could focus on this, instead of yet another institutional discussion that actually plays into the hands of anti-European forces. If one starts from the needs of the people, one can come up with pro-European decisions. The conference should not only question citizens, but there should also be leadership by formulating proposals and testing them with the public – a combination of top-down and bottom-up.”

    Wolfgang Schüssel, Former Chancellor of Austria:

    “The EU budget for the next seven years needs sufficient resources. The United Kingdom, an important contributor, has left. New challenges, like the prevention of pandemics, President von der Leyen’s ‘Green Deal’, the necessary protection of external borders, and funding an emerging common defence policy, underline the necessity for novel own resources for the Union. Let us add the intended recovery plan after the Corona crisis – and in this context, an open discussion without taboos about the size, use, control, and a repayment plan of such a huge programme is necessary. This may not be a federalist ambition but a better equilibrium of European and national competences.”

    Foreign policy and defence are essential areas for the EU’s future. Would you agree that the European Council should take decisions on the common EU foreign and security policy by majority vote and not by consensus? And do you see PESCO as the main instrument to move forward and strengthen the EU’s weight in the field of defence?

    Lawrence Gonzi: “On the issue of common defence, I think our strength comes from our collective action and common purpose. On the one hand, having consensus on these sensitive issues lends legitimacy to the process and ensures that no Member State feels railroaded into a decision that it is not comfortable with on a sensitive issue. On the other hand, consensus means that their discussions take longer, and we are less flexible in how the Union reacts. On balance, my preference is to retain consensus in defence matters. That means more work for our negotiators and more need for States to compromise – but that is the only way all our citizens will feel involved in the process.”

    Andrius Kubilius: “I agree that Foreign Policy and Defence in the EU are critically important policies. In my view, Foreign and Defence Policies in the EU should not be the only ones decided by majority voting. Other policies should be included, because that is the only way to make the EU truly democratic and effective. PESCO is an important instrument, but more importantly, the EU needs to have a clear strategy on security and defence issues – determining where the EU is going to rely on its ‘strategic autonomy’, and where it will rely on NATO (or US) capabilities.”

    Herman Van Rompuy: “Of course, I am in favour of more possibilities for qualified majority voting. It should also be discussed in the Conference on the Future of Europe. To make the idea more acceptable, one could imagine a softer formula in which the opposition of a minimal number of countries cannot block a decision. This could have avoided the recent problems in the Council. With regard to PESCO: we must make a success of this first in order to envisage the next step. The final objective must be a genuine military dimension of the Union.”

    Wolfgang Schüssel: “The European Union should extend Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) procedures to foreign policy areas. In the future, sensitive decisions regarding China’s policy and ambitions, but also Israel’s prospective annexation plans of the West Bank, will require clear EU statements. Defence policy is probably too underdeveloped for QMV voting and needs, for the foreseeable future, consensual decisions.”

    Despite initial success in 2014, the Spitzenkandidaten procedure to elect the Commission President failed in 2019. How can it be reformed? And what other measures could help bring the EU closer to citizens?

    Lawrence Gonzi: “I am a fan of the Spitzenkandidaten process, and I think it is a pity that it was not fully respected in 2019 – but I do not think that it is dead in the water. I would move to codify the process and therefore give increased legitimacy and certainty to the European Commission President and the entire image of our European Union.”

    Andrius Kubilius: “In an effort to bring the EU closer to its citizens, the role of the European Parliament should be strengthened with the power to initiate legislation, the power of parliamentary oversight of the executive branch, and the power of non-confidence towards individual Commissioners. This would make the entire EU architecture more democratic. The Spitzenkandidaten system was designed to make the whole process less dependent on a consensus in the Council. There are also other ways to overcome this problem: for example, deciding by majority vote in the Council when making a decision on the candidate for Commission President.”

    Herman Van Rompuy: “I’ve never been a supporter of the Spitzenkandidaten procedure. It hasn’t brought the Union any closer to its citizens, and instead organised a pointless power struggle between the EU institutions. I would invest much more energy into the idea of a European constituency. Unfortunately, that concept quickly found its way into the inter-party political battle. It deserves a second chance.”

    Wolfgang Schüssel: “The text of the treaty is quite clear: the European Council makes a proposal, taking into account the results of the EP Election, followed by an affirmative EP vote, which is necessary. Politicising and personalising the election, and as a result the European Commission, is, in my opinion, a disputable option. It is better to put the substance of European policy at the core of the election and the alternative party programs.”

    Crisis Defence EU Institutions EU Member States Future of Europe

    How will the Corona crisis shape the future of Europe?

    Other News

    25 Jun 2020

  • There is a widespread perception that the development of surveillance technologies in border management is antagonistic to civil liberties. This article attempts to contribute to a better understanding of the need for new technological means to survey the EU’s external border. Contrary to the critics, it contends that there is no liberty without security. It argues that the so-called militarisation of the EU’s borders is a precondition for countering the dangers which threaten our liberties. These dangers include organised cross-border crime, illegal migration and incursions by hostile powers. The article also demonstrates that the use of border surveillance aircraft contributes to saving lives at the EU’s external border and that the use of modern technologies generates record trails which make it easier to track potential human rights abuses committed by border guards. To manage migration, facilitate legitimate commerce, monitor for illegal waste dumping and guarantee the undisturbed functioning of our institutions, improved border management with the help of modern technologies is a necessity.

    Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Vít Novotný EU Institutions European Union Migration

    Vít Novotný

    Surveillance Aircraft and the Borders of Schengen


    23 Jun 2020

  • The article describes the socio-demographic situation of Western Pomerania following Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004. Western Pomerania faced a number of challenges: a brain drain, a rapidly ageing society and a shortage of workers. The region’s demographic situation was particularly serious compared to Poland’s other regions. However, Western Pomerania is now profiting from an inflow of migrants, especially from Ukraine, which is boosting the region’s economy. The article describes the measures undertaken on the local and regional level to promote the inflow of economic migrants and to integrate them into the local society. The measures described are helping to form a broader regional strategy to tackle the challenges of people leaving the region, the ageing population and a departing workforce. The article argues that if the proper support for newcomers is provided, migration could become a positive factor for the local economy.

    Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Olgierd Geblewicz EU Institutions EU Member States Integration Migration

    Olgierd Geblewicz

    Western Pomeranian Experiences with Migration and Emigration: The Need for Local Solutions


    15 Jun 2020

  • Migration is a major issue, not only for Europe but for the whole world, and it will remain so for years to come. It is a phenomenon caused by a number of factors and one that is beyond the capacities of a single state to tackle. Rather it requires solidarity and joint efforts to handle it. This article focuses on the migration/refugee issue in Europe, particularly from the perspective of Greece. It provides an overview of the efforts of Greece and the EU to address the challenge of irregular migration and the flow of refugees in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Giorgos Koumoutsakos EU Institutions EU Member States Migration

    Giorgos Koumoutsakos

    Migration: A European Question in Need of Urgent Answers


    04 Jun 2020

  • How should the migration issue be tackled from an institutional perspective? The issue of immigration represents a common, communitarian challenge, not only a challenge for particular countries. This means that the answers to this challenge must be found together, at the European level, through close cooperation between the member states and the EU institutions. Management of immigration should be organised at the European level, by the EU institutions and the member states working together. This applies to border control, the repatriation of those not granted asylum or a residence permit, and also to cooperation with third countries on migration issues.

    Read the full Editorial of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda EU Institutions EU Member States Immigration Migration

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    New Perspectives on Migration Policies


    25 May 2020

  • Amid the lockdown, we’re left awestruck by the arrival of spring: blue skies, brisk air, and the general abundance of nature. However, our senses have not been suddenly heightened as we mark the second month in self-isolation. Rather, the recent statistics from the European Environment Agency and the European Space Agency show that air pollution fell dramatically, in many European cities by up to 50%, as the world came to a standstill amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

    The unprecedented public health crisis exposed the many vulnerabilities of humanity, with air pollution among the risk factors. The link between COVID-19 and poor air quality appears to be threefold: death rates are higher in patients with chronic illnesses linked with exposure to air pollution. Secondly, pollutants inflame the lungs, which become more susceptible to catching the virus. And lastly, particles of pollution might even serve as a vehicle to carry the virus further. However, smog has been deadly long before the COVID-19 outbreak and it causes 430,000 premature deaths in the EU each year. The World Health Organization identified air pollution as the biggest environmental risk to health in the EU.

    Air quality in tandem with climate action

    The political commitment to reduce emissions has been embodied by the fight against climate change, with the primary target being carbon dioxide emissions, whose greenhouse effect warms up the atmosphere with devastating consequences for the planet. This noble cause rightly spurred global climate action, keeping world leaders awake until dawn during lengthy international negotiations, and attracted celebrity champions from Hollywood actors to youth activists.

    Yet improving air quality is just as acute, with direct benefits to human health, biodiversity, and the climate as a whole. Air pollutants are different from CO2, and, rather than piling up in the atmosphere, they negatively and directly affect the air we breathe. The substances most harmful to human health are the dust-like particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and ground-level ozone (O3). They are primarily caused by road traffic, shipping, agriculture, domestic heating, and power generation. One might wonder, if air pollution is so dangerous, shouldn’t the EU do something about it? Thankfully, it already does, as air quality has been one of Europe’s main political concerns since the late 1970s.

    Air pollution is currently regulated both at the international level, by the UN Gothenburg Protocol that sets binding emission reduction targets, and on the European level, by the Ambient Air Quality Directives that sets standards for the quality of the air we breathe. The EU also oversees the National Emission Ceilings Directive, that obliges member states to reduce total emissions of certain air pollutants, alongside other sectoral legislation.

    Despite these comprehensive rules, in November 2018, the European Court of Auditors published a revealing report on air pollution, which concluded that citizens’ health remains insufficiently protected. While air quality has been improving, most member states still do not comply with the EU’s air quality standards. The European Commission faces limitations in monitoring and enforcing the rules. As of January 2018, it had 32 ongoing infringement cases regarding air pollution, and these cases can take up to eight years to resolve. So how can we advance from the status quo?

    Never let a good crisis go to waste

    EU standards have played a pivotal role in reducing air pollution in Europe, with simple measures such as the mandatory use of catalytic converters for petrol cars since 1993, and tighter norms for all vehicles ever since. On the other hand, the fact that many member states still fail to reach some of the air quality targets demonstrates that there are limits to the effectiveness of regulation, and that over-regulation is hardly the way to go. However, we can hardly deny the ecological and health urgency.

    What is needed is a paradigm that will shift the attitudes – of policymakers, businesses, and citizens – towards a new ‘normal’. And the Corona crisis might serve as the right trigger for the much-needed synergy between public support and political action. Behavioural scientists argue that people were able to comply with the stringent lockdown measures because they understood the logic behind them. The same public awareness can now be used to advance from compliance to commitment and secure some of the new habits we have adopted as a society.

    The EU should continue to highlight the political priority of the European Green Deal as the centrepiece to Europe’s resilient post-Corona economic recovery with concrete, incremental initiatives towards achieving the long-term goal of climate neutrality and zero pollution. The future common agricultural policy is designed to contribute to climate action, as is the whole EU budget for the upcoming period 2021-2027. Sustainability should be mainstreamed in all EU policies, including finance and investment, promoting research, innovation, education, and improving public information. On the global level, as has been the case with climate diplomacy, the EU should promote clean air policies in all international fora.

    Member states have a pivotal role to play. As governments outline plans for massive public investment and fiscal measures to aid industries struggling due to the Corona crisis, they should not miss the ecological opportunities to attain sustainable growth and resilient jobs. Strategies to achieve cleaner air for all citizens should be supplemented by the efficient and transparent use of available EU funds. People in rural areas should have access to affordable cleaner fuels to heat their homes. In cities, local governments ought to promote more sustainable forms of transportation. Many mayors already began adding cycling infrastructure and enlarging public spaces, as a step towards deconfinement while maintaining social distancing. Where feasible, employers should enhance the possibilities to work from home, which will reduce traffic peaks. And citizens should be empowered to make informed individual choices to opt for less polluting alternatives.

    Let’s do it right so that we can all take a breath of fresh air!

    Eva Palacková COVID-19 Crisis Environment EU Institutions

    Eva Palacková

    Clean air is this crisis’ silver lining: let’s work towards keeping it


    20 May 2020

  • The month of May is the perfect time for political contemplation. There are many reasons to think deeper about Europe and our European future these days, particularly as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and 16 years since the reunification of Europe. Additionally, Europe is facing an unparalleled challenge in the post-war era – the COVID-19 pandemic.

    If someone asked me these days how Europe is doing, I would have to say that it is divided once again. We somehow overcame the global financial and economic crisis. But the cracks have since only continued to deepen. We were unable to provide a uniform response to the migration crisis. We seem to have lost the ability to distinguish our allies from our opponents, or other potential threats. We are divided when assessing whether government actions are still democratic, or if they already belong to the apparatus of autocrats. We are divided when deciding if the EU enlargement process should continue or be halted. We are divided on the issue of whether the Istanbul Convention is an opportunity or a threat. We are divided on whether our economies, being bled dry by the pandemic, should be rescued by loans or grants, and whether the future European budget should give priority to cohesion and convergence over security and innovation. It has never been easy to reach a consensus within the EU, but the current level of dissonance makes me very concerned.

    Whenever there was a problem, I asked myself if anything could be done about it. I asked a similar question recently when reading the interview with Irene Tinagli, Chairwoman of the EP’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. I learned from the interview that when in her native Italy you mention the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) as a tool to support economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis, “there is a lot of sensitivity”. The ESM is “seen as a traditional instrument, as a way to control economic and fiscal policies.”

    In other words, I learned that indebted Italy does not want to take additional loans under the ESM and that the current Italian government instead wants grants. I can understand why a heavily indebted Italy does not want additional loans. But I do not understand why Italian leaders are hiding behind the sentiments of voters while enflaming such views. I do not understand how the leader of a European country can plead for grants, without presenting in advance, or simultaneously, a set of reforms that would change the country for the better.

    Having said this, is there anything that can be done to deal with this serious internal European division? In my opinion, we must start playing fair with voters. Either political leaders opt to play fair, or the post-pandemic wave will sweep us away. Political leaders must have the courage to explain to people that cohesion does not mean everyone will enjoy the same income. That solidarity does not mean that people of responsibility will tolerate or promote moral hazard. That someone will have to foot the bill for the irresponsible decisions of politicians. Political leaders must tell EU citizens that the key to Europe’s future consists, first and foremost, of deep reforms implemented at the national level. Only then can the most indebted countries invoke greater solidarity and support from the others. The leaders of EU institutions, for their part, should not raise unrealistic expectations, but rather patiently explain that they can only exercise the competences entrusted to their administration by the member states. 

    I cannot keep myself from saying this: when we, the post-communist countries, were struggling to get back on our feet after the period of morass, there was no Marshall plan, and we had never heard a term such as ‘bail-out’. It had never even occurred to me, as the then-Prime Minister, to ask other countries for grants to make up for Communist mismanagement. We carried out painful reforms, privatised entire sectors in order to repay old debts and rescue the banks. To this day, ex-Communists reproach me for selling “Slovakia’s family silver”. But I can live with this kind of reproach. Yes, we recognised the value of financial instruments, such as the International Monetary Fund’s stand-by loans, or development investment loans from the World Bank or the European Investment Bank. However, what we always valued most was moral and political support from the West, and its vision of a reunited Europe.

    There is no magic wand and the only way forward is together. There is no technical finesse that would us rid of old debts. Individual cunning or political threats are not a solution, either. There is only one thing that will determine our success, or failure – sound leadership by politicians, or their resignation in front of voters disoriented by their actions. Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi, their travel companions and their successors achieved a unique feat: uniting Europe and making it stand on its feet. Now is the time for its protection and further development.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda COVID-19 Crisis EU Institutions European Union Values

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    Beyond divisions, the only way forward is together


    09 May 2020

  • The COVID-19 outbreak, and its deep financial aftermath, will put the European Union under unprecedented stress over the next five years or more. Brexit will add to these tensions for some members, notably Ireland. It is a matter of vital national interest for Ireland, that the EU gets its response to the crisis right, and does not allow it to create dangerous social distancing between the states of the EU.

    The existing structure of the EU is unfitted to a crisis like this. The public expects the EU to act, but has not been given the EU the powers it needs to do so. Unlike the states of the EU, the EU itself has no capacity to borrow money, and no capacity to raise taxation. So it often lacks the financial clout to take decisive action. The amount it is allowed to spend is a mere 1% of GDP, whereas EU member states can and do spend around 40% of their GDP.

    The countries and regions that gain most from the EU Single Market, are either unaware of the gains, or mistakenly think it is all due to their own efforts. A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation showed that the big objectors to Eurobonds (Germany, Austria and the Netherlands) gain almost three times as much per capita from the EU Single Market as do the assumed beneficiaries of the Eurobonds, Spain and Italy!

    If the Single Market were to fail, the objectors would lose the most. But their national politicians fail to tell them this. Incidentally, the study showed Ireland to be a big gainer from the Single Market.

    Meanwhile, the countries and regions that gain comparatively less from the Single Market resent this, and fail to acknowledge that they too are gaining from being in the EU Single Market, albeit a bit less than the others are gaining. Envy blinds some to reality.

    Of course, these contradictory feelings are rarely expressed publicly, but they are there under the surface, ready to emerge when a crisis happens and decisions have to be made quickly.

    COVID-19 has been such a crisis.

    The restrictions on economic activity, as well as the direct health and income support costs, arising from COVID-19 will dramatically increase the debts of all states in the EU. At the same time, the initial reactions in some member states – from Germany blocking sales of vital equipment to Austria closing its border – have left bitter feelings in Southern member states, especially Italy.

    Assuming a 20% drop in GDP as a result of COVID-19, an economist in the Bruegel Institute in Brussels has estimated that the Debt/GDP ratio of Italy could rise from 136% of GDP to 189%, that of France from 99% to 147%, that of Spain from 97% to 139%, and that of Germany from 59% to 94%.

    As all these countries can expect their workforces to decrease in the next 20 years, because of past low birth rates, this is a very troubling prospect. A way needs to be found to spread the debt as widely as possible and as far as possible into the future.

    The EU faces an unprecedented situation which justifies unprecedented actions.

    One of the proposals made to do this is Eurobonds/Coronabonds which would enable countries to borrow with a guarantee from all eurozone states. The interest rate might be lower but it is still just another form of borrowing. If Italy issued a Eurobond, it would still be increasing its overall debt, and might face a higher interest rate on its ordinary bond issues. Another objection is that it might take 18 months or more to get these Eurobonds up and running, and the markets need something quicker.

    Another proposal, favoured by some Northern member states,  is that distressed countries borrow from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Some believe that the ESM is too small for all that needs to be done. Others worry about the conditions that might be imposed.

    Meanwhile, the European Central Bank (ECB) continues to buy the bonds of member states. For example, it owns 26% of all German government bonds and 22% of all Spain’s bonds. This bond buying by the ECB enables governments to continue borrowing, but its support is confined to members who are in the euro. It is using monetary policy to achieve the goals of fiscal policy, which is controversial.

    I suggest that a better solution would be to allow the European Union itself to borrow, up to a limit of (say) 0.5% of the EU GDP, to spend exclusively on COVID-19 related expenditures.

    Article 122 of the Treaty already makes provision for the EU to give aid to help states suffering from “natural disasters and exceptional occurrences” beyond the control of a member state or states. COVID-19 meets this criterion.

    But the EU is not using this power, because its budget is fully committed to other things. It has no room to respond to sudden emergencies. It would have such room if it was allowed to borrow. This power could then be activated to allow direct transfers of funds to a state in acute distress because of COVID-19 or the like, without adding to the recipient state’s debt. 

    Doing this would require an amendment to Article 310 (1) of the Treaty. This article presently requires the EU always to run a balanced budget. This could be amended to allow borrowing that was confined to spending on matters, like COVID-19,  that had arisen suddenly and were beyond the control of the state looking for help. Such a limited borrowing authority would command a lot of support from the electorate.

    It would also be borrowing under the democratic control by the Council of Ministers and  European Parliament, something that does not apply to bond buying by the ECB.

    The EU faces an unprecedented situation which justifies unprecedented actions.

    John Bruton Brexit COVID-19 Crisis Economy EU Institutions EU Member States

    John Bruton

    Increasing our firepower: Where can the EU find the ammunition to fight a Coronavirus induced economic slump?


    07 Apr 2020

  • The pandemic that has now affected billions, forcing nearly half the world’s population into some form of lockdown, is far from over. In fact, infectious disease experts warn that the majority of countries grappling with the virus have not yet reached their respective apex. For the European Union, this means that thousands more will fall ill; supplies of ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment, as well as hospital beds, will increasingly become scarce; businesses will continue to suffer or face bankruptcy and economic output will stagnate, with a Eurozone (and global) recession all but guaranteed.

    As such, this is not only the problem of any one, or a few, EU member states. It is a uniquely European problem, that only a European solution can effectively solve.

    In the EU, knee-jerk reactions like the closure of internal borders, and the initial freezes on national exports of protective medical equipment and testing kits — later rectified by the Commission — run contrary to our European way of life, making them appear particularly abrasive and extraordinary.

    There have also been numerous examples of member states donating medical supplies to other members who need them more urgently, with some even welcoming cross-border corona patients to their hospitals. But, as noble and heart-warming as these instances of EU solidarity are, alone, they are not enough.

    The EU has been far too divided in its response, to its own detriment. A remedy to a crisis of this magnitude (455,901 cases in the EU/EEA and UK at the time of writing) must be proportional, uniquely European, centralised at EU-level, and better communicated to the general public. It must present “EU solidarity” not merely as a platitude, but as a resounding, undeniable fact.

    The EU is a coalition of 27 member states that agree to work intimately with one another for benefits they could not otherwise obtain alone. If the EU wants to pass the post-stress test that will inevitably follow this pandemic, and the inescapably intertwined questions of legitimacy, it must start acting like its future depends on it. After all, that is exactly what is at stake.

    There have been numerous attempts, and there will be many more temptations, to close off our open societies and revert back to mere nation states. Some measures are indeed vital to contain the spread of the virus, such as internal border closures, but the EU must take coordinated action to counter potential consequences, like threats to food security.

    Although the Commission has already taken necessary action to address some of these concerns, like the implementation of “green lanes” throughout the EU, more oversight will be needed to ensure the flow of goods goes unhindered. For instance, it should also lead a coordinated effort to oversee and expedite the distribution of medical equipment from members where production is concentrated, namely the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Poland, to members in dire need.

    This is not only the problem of any one, or a few, EU member states. It is a uniquely European problem, that only a European solution can effectively solve. 

    The EU must also continue to pass swift, sweeping emergency measures to support the hardest-hit member states. The Commission-proposed EU Solidarity Fund is a good start, but it is only a temporary lifeline.

    The next major hurdle for the EU is the negotiation of a more long-term, far-reaching, joint fiscal package to address the wider economic repercussions caused by the virus. Herein lies the most significant bottleneck for the EU’s COVID-19 response to date, one for which the von der Leyen Commission, as well as the Council, must find a way to overcome. If the already-tainted idea of ‘corona bonds’ does not receive the traction necessary to make it a viable option, then emergency crisis meetings must be held with more frequency in order to expedite alternatives, like the pan-European unemployment reinsurance scheme.

    There is one more area, however, where the EU, and the Commission in particular, needs to improve: communication. Rather than highlighting instances of EU solidarity via the actions of individual member states, the EU’s communication strategy should be centralised as well, involving joint press conferences between the heads of the Commission, Council and Parliament, at least once per week. In addition to presenting the latest trends and figures, the EU should use such an occasion to better communicate the co-ordinated efforts that it is spearheading, which to date are largely flying under the radar.

    Furthermore, information on the Commission’s webpage documenting the assistance provided by the EU to the member states (and among member states) should be more easily accessible, streamlined, and categorised by country.

    This pandemic is a defining moment for the European Union. It has the opportunity to prove its potential and demonstrate that it can overcome a threat of such magnitude, together, by navigating the crisis as a union. Failure to respond in a unified manner could de-rail the progression of the European project for decades to come, or deliver a blow to its legitimacy from which it may never recover.

    On the other hand, if the EU effectively demonstrates the benefits of a more coordinated, federal-like response, it could leave the doorway open to further integration and centralised autonomy – from finance to security – to better prepare and respond to crises of similar proportion in the future.

    Before we rid ourselves of this virus in Europe, and on a global scale, things will get worse before they get better, but we are all in this together. Instances of EU solidarity, alone, will not be enough to overcome this crisis. However, if the Commission and the other Institutions step up their role as the central nerve system of the EU, facilitating a more centralised, unified, and better-communicated response to Europeans, we may even emerge as a stronger Union.

    After all, the coronavirus knows no boundaries, why should our response?

    Gavin Synnott COVID-19 Crisis EU Institutions EU Member States Leadership

    Gavin Synnott

    COVID-19 in Europe demands a centralised European response


    03 Apr 2020

  • Despite partially delivering on his threat, to ‘open the floodgates’ of migrants to Europe, Turkish President Erdoğan remains a rational, albeit undemocratic, politician. The EU should strike a new migration bargain with Turkey, one that involves the creation of a safe zone and the protection of civilians in Idlib. All this should be part of the EU’s selective political support to the Turkish government.

    Turkey surprised Europe again when, according to Reuters, an anonymous Turkish official uttered the following sentence on 27 February: “All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union.”

    Unlike previous rabble-rousing Turkish statements, this one was immediately followed by action. The Turkish intelligence service began organising transportation of migrants from centres inside Turkey to the Greek border. Refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq were told that Greece would accept them on its territory. People boarded buses in the middle of the night and were taken to the border areas. At the same time, the news channel A-Haber, which belongs to President Erdoğan’s family, began advertising the news that the Greek border was open. Turkish police, coastguard and border security officials were ordered to no longer prevent migrant crossings towards Greece and Bulgaria.

    The rest has already become history. February 2020 will be known as the month in which another massive migrant crisis started on the EU borders, although no-one can tell how long this one will last.


    According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, preparations for the bus transfers of migrants from cities like Istanbul had been going on for days. It is not clear if the Greeks and Bulgarians knew that something was afoot. Nevertheless, they have responded well, and continue to do so, as they refuse any migrant crossings under the current conditions of extreme pressure.

    We cannot exclude the idea that Turkey has deliberately targeted Greece at this moment. Just before the Turkish green light to refugees, clashes between local residents and riot police on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios were growing increasingly violent.

    As is now clear, the main impetus for Turkey to engage in this ‘humanitarian aggression’ is desperation over the situation in the north-west Syrian province of Idlib where Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have been engaged in indiscriminate killings, not distinguishing between jihadists and civilians. Turkey has a justified fear over a new wave of Syrian refugees crossing into Turkey.

    EU response

    Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Europe (and the West) have stood on the side-lines, without doing much to defeat Assad or to, at least, try to create peace in the country. The EU’s humanitarian efforts in the war-torn country and the painful lessons of the 2003 Iraq invasion cannot justify the bloc’s scandalous absence from any meaningful involvement in Syria. Europe has been paying the price ever since by having to face a neighbourhood that increasingly seems out of control. So far, the refugee wave of 2015-16 has been the most perceptible reminder. A new reminder is now being issued.

    It is perhaps time to recognise that although we choose our friends, we do not choose our neighbours. Turkish aggression in the Mediterranean, and namely its incursions in the Greek airspace and illegal drilling in Cypriot waters, cannot be condoned. The same applies to the customary jailing and ostracism of journalists, academics and opposition politicians at home.

    On the other hand, Turkey has already experienced regimes that were much worse than that of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country is hosting the highest number of refugees in the world. If there were a no man’s land where Turkey is, there would be at least 4 million, and probably many more, refugees and migrants in the EU today. It is difficult to imagine in what state European politics would be under that scenario. Those who criticise the 2016 EU-Turkey migration deal invariably fail to answer that question.

    And unlike some European NATO members, Turkey is on the right side in Libya, supporting the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. (Despite this, its maritime deal with Libya is very likely illegal.)

    All this is to say that not working with the Turks is not an option. Europe, while criticising the Turkish regime on some policies, needs to lend a helping hand to others.

    Despite all the recent geopolitical losses to Russia and Iran, there is still scope for meaningful European engagement in the region.

    First, continuing with the business as usual is important. EU member states need to start preparing budgets for a new migration deal with Turkey after funds under the current agreement run out.

    Second, as the current Turkish migration pressure is tied to the dismal humanitarian situation in the province of Idlib, the EU should strike an additional Idlib-focused bargain with Erdoğan. Persuading Russia to agree at the UN level to the creation of a safe zone with European boots on the ground, would have to be part of this agreement. A less ambitious but still effective means of protecting the local population would be the establishment of a no-fly zone, now promoted by the Netherlands.

    Of course, all this should happen under the condition that Turkey has restored control on the Greek border and again, held up its end of the 2016 agreement.

    When this condition has been fulfilled, European money and humanitarian assistance should be directed to the civilians in Idlib. Such European support should be tied to taming the unfortunate Turkish tendency to enlist local jihadist units in its service.

    European governments need to hold up their end of the 2016 agreement as well. For example, they must resettle substantial numbers of refugees from Turkey, as foreseen by the agreement. Those EU governments that refuse resettlement may soon have to accommodate irregular migrants breaching their national borders en masse and, unlike resettled individuals, bringing along genuine security risks.

    The ongoing negotiations on the EU’s long-term budget as well as the branding of the von der Leyen Commission as the geopolitical commission offer an excellent opportunity for Europe to step up its game in Syria.

    Recognising that Turkey may not be a friend, but remains an ally would be the first useful step in this process.

    Vít Novotný Crisis EU Institutions Immigration Neighbourhood Policy

    Vít Novotný

    Time for a new migration bargain with Erdoğan


    05 Mar 2020

  • In international affairs, the year 2020 has begun dramatically. On 3 January, the US killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in a targeted airstrike in Iraq. The strike came only days after protesters had assaulted the US embassy in Baghdad in an attack for which the Pentagon blamed Iran and Soleimani in particular.

    Iran retaliated on 8 January by hitting American air bases in Iraq with missiles. No American troops were killed and Washington has seemed to accept them as a tit-for-tat response for the earlier strike on Soleimani. Yet, the standoff has also produced casualties: hours after the missile strikes, Iran accidentally shot down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board.

    As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep. The Union’s response has been—as it often is when the EU is confronted with a crisis—haphazard and devoid of strategy.

    The EU has made little effort to speak in one voice. Following the American strike on Soleimani, EU leaders issued different and poorly coordinated statements. The first one to do so was European Council President Charles Michel, who emphasised that further escalation needs to be avoided ‘at all cost’. His statement was followed by additional reactions from High Representative Josep Borrell and the President of the new ‘geopolitical’ European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

    Confusion over who is really speaking for “Europe” was increased further by the separate diplomatic initiatives of France, Germany and the UK—the “E3” European signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. At the height of the standoff, France spoke to Iraq, Germany engaged Iran and the UK put the Royal Navy on standby in the Gulf. The E3 also released a separate joint statement to add to the pile of European reactions.

    As tensions between the US and Iran have peaked, the EU has found it challenging to play a meaningful diplomatic role in the Middle East, despite the fact the region is located on its own doorstep.

    The various European statements have two things in common. First, they emphasise the need to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East in order to avoid a spiral of violence. Second, they emphasise the need to preserve the JCPoA, which has been on life support ever since the US decision to withdraw from it in 2018. Yet, Europe doesn’t seem to be in a strong position to impact the former and the latter seems little more than a dead letter, especially after Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment limits.

    EU foreign ministers did discuss the situation in the Middle East in an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting on 10 January and they mandated the High Representative to carry out diplomatic efforts with all parties to the standoff to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions. Beyond this, the outcomes of the FAC were meagre (i.e. call for de-escalation and restraint, rhetorical support for Iraq’s stability and the preservation of the JCPoA).

    The most significant European move took place on 14 January when the E3 triggered the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism in order to bring Iran back into full compliance with the agreement. High Representative Borrell will oversee the dispute resolution process but the EU doesn’t seem to have an Iran strategy beyond the preservation of the JCPOA, which may well collapse entirely if the process fails and UN sanctions are re-imposed on Tehran.

    The causes of Europe’s strategy deficiency are multiple and would take an entire book to address sufficiently. However, it suffices to say here that the EU suffers from multiple problems. These include, inter alia, a leadership vacuum in foreign policy, difficulties in taking decisions that do not create positive win-win outcomes, an unwillingness to make political sacrifices in international affairs, and a lack of appetite for strategic thinking.

    None of these problems can be fixed with a single silver bullet such as expanding the use of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in EU foreign policy. This is because the Union’s problems are either structural in character or rooted in strategic culture, which means that they cannot be overcome by simply moving away from unanimity decision making in the Council.

    Yet, there are things the EU could do. The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop. This is confusing to audiences both within and outside the EU who seek to understand the Union’s position on a given issue. Ideally, there should be a single joint statement by the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the High Representative if a statement by the latter alone is considered insufficient.

    There should also be a permanent operational contact group consisting of the major European powers, which inevitably are expected to take charge in a crisis. It could take the form of a European Security Council, under the umbrella of which major European countries could coordinate their diplomatic activities. Such a structure could be based outside the EU to make it politically feasible to include post-Brexit UK as well.

    The current practice in which the presidents of different EU institutions issue separate statements on major foreign policy events should stop.

    Finally, there should be a permanent EU level strategy development process, which should lead to the adoption of a new European Security Strategy (ESS) every five years. At the moment, documents such as the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) are developed on ad hoc basis whenever the member states have an interest in them. This is why there was a 13-year gap between the 2003 ESS and the 2016 EUGS. A more formalised process would push the EU to think about what it wants to achieve on the world stage in regular intervals.

    These are small steps, but smalls steps are preferable to doing nothing. The risk is that Europe will continue to sink into further strategic irrelevance and that EU foreign policy will be reduced to empty slogans, hollow statements and photo opportunities.

    At a time when tensions in the Middle East remain high, when Russia continues to be assertive, when China’s rise is challenging the established international order, muddling through—Europe’s default foreign policy strategy—should be rejected as an option. Continuing to follow it would be detrimental to Europe’s ability to defend its interests as well as those of its partners.

    Niklas Nováky Brexit Crisis EU Institutions European Union Foreign Policy Middle East

    Niklas Nováky

    Iran-US standoff: A missed chance for the EU to speak with one voice


    15 Jan 2020

  • The leading Twitter hashtags on 3 January – the day Qasem Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike in broad daylight in front of Baghdad Airport – were #WorldWarIII and #FranzFerdinand – the latter not referring to the Scottish indie band, but to the murder of Austria’s heir presumptive that triggered World War I. Alas, 2020 is not 1914, Baghdad isn’t Sarajevo, and the one thing we can safely predict is that World War III is not about to break out. Which doesn’t mean everything is ok and we can safely go back to de-hibernation in rainy Brussels. And the disaster of the downed Ukrainian passenger plane demonstrates that there is no such thing as a conflict without tragic losses. But it means that Europe’s hyperventilation, even if shared by many US liberals in the solidly partisan biotope of Washington, should give way to a healthy dose of sobriety. I propose to take it in five steps.

    1. The big Middle Eastern War is not imminent

    If the price of crude oil, as a reaction to Soleimani’s killing – jumps up a mere 3 %, as it did last Friday, you know that Armageddon will have to wait, no matter what the Twittersphere says. That doesn’t mean the crisis is over. But the very measured missile strike without casualties against US bases in Iraq on 8 January, the tweets by Iranian leaders that they don’t want further escalation and also Trump’s non-escalatory statement after the missile strikes all speak for lowering tensions for the moment. In fact, while both sides of the conflict have no interest in letting this grow into a full-blown war, it’s the Iranian regime whose very existence is at stake in case the US and/or Israel take out the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) structure – of which they are very well capable. While full-blown war might jeopardise Trump’s re-election, in Iran it would put the whole system into question and likely end mullah rule.

    2. Soleimani’s killing has re-established deterrence against Iran

    Taking out the mastermind behind Iran’s export of terror in the Middle East and beyond, the engineer of the slaughter in Aleppo and elsewhere who is also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers, may well go down in history as a textbook example of escalating to de-escalate. This, nota bene, after a couple of Iranian attacks that remained essentially unanswered by the US. The bombing of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in spring 2019, the shooting down of a state-of-the-art US drone in June and the missile attacks against Saudi refineries in September come to mind. And remember, it was a good part of the American and European security community that began to worry that Trump is being too soft on Iran, especially after he called back planes and drones already in the air after the drone incident.

    Apparently, this week the Iranian military before the strike called up the Iraqi authorities, who then warned the US soldiers so they could get into shelters. Iranian leaders are tweeting very clearly that they want to avoid further escalation. Iraqi Shia leaders have issued calls to their faithful not to attack US troops for the moment. All these are signs that, for the first time in almost a year of direct aggression against the US, Iran is indeed standing down. Soleimani’s killing caused this.

    3. The killing has not weakened Iranian moderates

    First of all, don’t be deceived by Iranian TV pictures of millions of mourners in the streets of Iranian cities. Soleimani may have been a popular figure with some Iranians; but being the second most powerful leader and his IRGC the decisive pillar of the regime, he was certainly reviled by all dissenters – whose numbers have been growing, if anything, recently. Naturally, the regime spent all the carrots and sticks at the disposal of an authoritarian system to make people attend the rallies. And secondly, Iran’s moderate reaction this Wednesday can very well be read as a sign that the radicals, especially in the IRGC itself, are not calling the shots anymore, contrary to recent years.

    4. US forces are not being kicked out of Iraq

    That may still happen, and it would be detrimental to Iraqi democracy and especially the fight against ISIS, but Iraq’s non-binding parliamentary resolution of last weekend will not lead to an immediate withdrawal of US troops. Anti-ISIS operations have been halted; some US allies are withdrawing troops from Iraq, but this may very well not be the last word. It’s definitely too early to predict the end of the US presence in Iraq.

    5. It is Europe’s sacred mission to bring both sides back to reason – NOT!

    Non-European observers may be forgiven for thinking that Europe’s habitual calls on both sides to exercise utmost restraint, and defer from further escalation, have all the quaintness – and the effectiveness – of a Pottawatomi rain dance. Which doesn’t mean that de-escalation doesn’t happen (see above) but it certainly isn’t the result of Europe’s well-meant efforts to ‘bring both sides back to reason’, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas put it.

    Fortunately, the heads of government of the UK, France and Germany were slightly more sober, putting the blame squarely on the Iranian side and Soleimani personally before repeating the standard memes of EU Iran policy. Europe’s problem with this crisis, as generally with the Middle East, is twofold: First, the EU and its members don’t have the wherewithal to take on any serious diplomatic role because, without the necessary military resources (not only troops but also transport, intelligence and command & control), they cannot alone become a security provider which is essential in the region. And second, some important European actors (Germany, for example) have a huge problem with the very idea of deterrence. Deterrence meaning the ability and the willingness to escalate, in a precise and limited and targeted manner in specific situations, as it happened last Friday. As long as this is so, we can call for utmost restraint or try to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) until we’re blue in the face.

    Again: All this doesn’t mean that we’re heading for a peaceful future in the Middle East, or that the Soleimani killing was a brilliant, well-planned chess move by a stable genius in the White House. But it means that we Europeans have to rethink some time-honoured principles about security. Remaining pure vegetarians, we won’t survive in a jungle of carnivores.

    Roland Freudenstein Crisis EU Institutions Foreign Policy Middle East Security

    Roland Freudenstein

    After Soleimani: We Need to Talk About Deterrence in Europe


    10 Jan 2020

  • I say Europe, you say…?


    What was the biggest myth about the EU that you had to bust during the campaign?

    There are a lot of myths about the EU. I’m a first-time politician, never ran a European campaign, never ran in any campaign. But I am very passionate about people. One of the myths was that if you are not from a political family or with political experience, you would never make it to the European Union. And I am very honoured to be an example that you can kick that myth in the derrière and make a difference.

    You are one of the youngest MEPs in the European Parliament, but it would be interesting to know what your first job was?

    I was 8 or 9 and I used to work in our local market where animals are sold. I used to help farmers load and offload sheep into the trailor. My first paying job was when I was 12, I worked in a local guest hotel, cleaning and serving. This enabled me to build a rapport with different personalities and was fun.

    What was the inspiration behind serving as a member of the Army Reserve in Ireland and volunteering with the Cavalry Corps? What was the most interesting part of that experience?

    This is really important to me. If I could do both, be an MEP and a trooper in the reserves, I would do it happily. I was born American and raised in Ireland, and I always had admiration for our volunteers, as well as towards our fulltime soldiers men and women who put on a uniform and represent our country.

    Now, Ireland is a neutral state and we protect that. But we also have soldiers who are constantly training to protect us in climate issues such as flood relief, or in a bomb squad, special forces, or protecting our dignitaries. Our defence force does a number of jobs even in a neutral state. When I realised I was getting a bit older and if I didn’t go for the reserves when and if I did, it would’ve been one of my greatest regrets. I absolutely adored it. It challenged me, it allowed me to be a better team player and to appreciate my Irish flag much more.

    You mentioned that you spent a part of your life in the United States and I know that you are a member of the delegation for the relations with the United States. What do you think is the future of the transatlantic relationship?

    It is not lost on me that the Commissioner-designate for trade is an Irishman called Phil Hogan, with a breadth of experience, particularly in agriculture. As the European Union, we are constantly negotiating better ways for our citizens and our trade to be protected. And then you asked me earlier, democracy. That is important now in the US more than ever and we need to make sure that our politics and the way our communities are thriving, being built and rebuilt is protected by both sides. There is a lot more to be done and I am excited to sit on that delegation.

    This year we have witnessed the election of the first female Commission president and for the first time, we will have a gender-balanced Commission college. What do you see as the next milestones to further gender balance in Europe?

    When Ursula Von der Leyen spoke in the hemicycle in Strasbourg, I, as a first-time MEP, as a female, as the youngest MEP coming from Ireland – it was remarkable to see history in its making. And I think perhaps it was lost on some, but it wasn’t lost on me.  We need to work better together on the gender pay gap, on gender pension issues, and I would love to see more diversity in the Commissioners college. What do I mean by that? Well, our ethnicity, our cultures, our religions, our orientations, that’s more important, not just gender, because we have a number of words attached to diversity. 

    What are your three favourite Twitter and Instagram accounts?

    This is so hard. I go through a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. But it’s now more than ever that social media has a great footprint for us on how to translate the information back to our Member States. In terms of politics, I love and I highly recommend people to follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – @RepAOC, a first-time Congresswoman. When it comes to diversity there is The Shona Project @shonadotie and when it comes to mental health it would be Jigsaw Offaly @jigsaw_offaly. You can find them both on Twitter and Instagram.  I am a  big sports fan so @MayoGAA would be a big one to follow from my side.

    You’ve just mentioned mental health and I know that this has been of the topics that you have urged the new Commission to take as a priority. What should we focus on first to address this issue?

    All throughout the campaign, I’ve talked about driving the European year of good mental health. I’m not expecting that to happen tomorrow but within the mandate of 5 years, but I personally want it next year. I want it as quickly as possible. Because I think if we are really looking at trade, as we talked about earlier about the US and China, about trade with our neighbour the UK, we’re actually talking about currency and developing skillsets for our labour market. At the centre of every conversation is mental health. And if we have citizens being mindful of the impact of the positive and negative mental health, then nothing moves.

    Our whole communities break down and it frustrates me that it hasn’t been a competency of the EU yet. But that’s why we have passionate people like you and me here to drive that message. We need to get it into our education programmes and get funding for pilot programmes on mental health resources for both our young and old. Education and up-skilling is a great start for that. But I personally need every Commissioner talking about mental health as if it’s bigger than anything else that they’re going to look at.  Everything is a thread into mental health and we need to secure that.

    Speaking of translating topics to citizens, you are already a sitting member on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. How do you translate complex topics such as social policies and employments to the voters back home?

    Firstly you have to constantly make sure that you are asking the questions that you think the citizens would like you to ask. It’s important that you dissect that and bring it home. When people think of the EU, they think of European symbols like funding. But the EU means a lot more than that. Over the campaign, I’ve challenged voters, particularly young ones to look for European symbols such as EU supported buildings, universities, and roads. When we look at the visible footprint, not just the financial impact, we begin to understand the pro-European stance better.

    Let’s say that you are playing football. You are the captain of “Team Europe” and it’s the last minute of the game. You have to pick one colleague to make the penalty. Whom do you pick?

    I should wear my country jersey and say that Sean Kelly could kick a good penalty. He was the president of GAA, which is the biggest sports organisation in Ireland, so I would say that he would be pretty dissent in taking a pint or a penalty. I’m going to regret saying this though. Yes, I say Sean Kelly.

    Coming back to your home country, agriculture is a big part of life there and your economy relies heavily on this sector. How do you see the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices?

    Actually, I just came from a call with a young constituent that I have in my area, a man called Kevin Moran who won ‘Young Farm of the Year’ a couple of years ago. He is not only planting trees but he’s also targeting his herd emissions, aiming to be close to 0%  emissions as soon as the next 2-3 years. We need to start listening a little bit more to our younger and older farmers who farm the land.

    All throughout the campaign, I’ve talked about a transition period. We cannot point fingers and say ‘you’re not green enough and this hasn’t happened enough’, but we need to help our citizens along on this transition and it can’t happen too fast because we can’t leave people behind. Our first female Commission President has tasked herself with the Green Deal and all eyes are on that. It’s my job as a new MEP to keep the pressure on my government and to make sure citizens are heard.

    Heels or army boots?

    Army boots.

    Pizza or fries?


    Hozier or U2?


    Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview and what would be the question you would ask?

    I would choose Polish MEP Magdalena Adamowicz. She is a phenomenal woman tackling hate speech through her own personal circumstance and also a first-time MEP in the EPP Group. She could kick a good penalty too if needed! My question to her would be: what is the one thing that we could do tomorrow in the EU to reduce hate speech?

    Centre-Right EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Maria Walsh

    I Say Europe

    10 Oct 2019

  • I say Europe, you say…?

    When I think of the European Union, I always think of an old Irish word: “meitheal.” It’s an old tradition where people from the neighbouring farms came together to help each other, to save the crops, to save the hay. The essence of it was to be reciprocal, and it benefited everybody. This is the way I feel about Europe. When we come together, we devise a way in which we can work together. We share our sovereignty to some extent, but we help each other. And I think that Ireland, my own country, can certainly be a testament to this kind of solidarity.

    What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    Yeah, the first thing I suppose in my own portfolio, I had to debunk the myth that farmers were not needed in order to ensure that we achieved a number of our objectives in relation to public goods. You cannot actually have a good environment, a good landscape, you cannot have good conditions of food standards and food security without the participation of our farmers.

    So, I had to convince people that if we want to have action on all these public goods, including growing ambitions on environment and climate action, we need people in the rural areas who will do this work for us. And I don’t know of any other sector that can do this work except farmers, and we have to reward them. So, the common agricultural policy is a good vehicle in order to ensure that we achieve a lot in our public goods agenda.

    You grew up on a family farm, so we wanted to ask you what your favourite chore was.

    Well, first of all as a young person I was really thrilled when I could drive the tractor. And then of course, when I was a little bit older, I liked managing the dairy herd, particularly in the summertime, it’s not so easy in the wintertime. But it was wonderful to see the cows eating the fresh grass and seeing the flow of high quality milk during the summer months.

    You have said that the Common Agricultural Policy is “constantly evolving to meet the challenges of the day.” What are the major challenges for agriculture going to be over the next decade or so?

    I suppose generational renewal is always going to be an issue. We need to get more young people involved, it’s a big disappointment that only 6% of the farmers of Europe are under 40 years old. And equally then we have to get our farmers to do more on the climate and environment agenda. They are the big challenges; protection of our natural resources, climate action, and getting more young people into the area of agriculture and the food business.

    You have developed a reputation as a tough negotiator over your political career. What do you do to avoid “having beef” with your counterparts?

    I respect everyone’s point of view. And, you know, I think if we are good negotiators, we have to understand that there has to be an outcome that each side can sell to their respective stakeholders and constituents. And this is the basic principle which I apply to all politics: negotiation is a people business, and therefore if you respect people and understand their personal objectives in any negotiation you will hopefully be able to find an accommodation that is good for both sides.

    This May, you said “we urgently need to tackle climate change and the degradation of our ecosystems if we want to preserve the planet for future generations.” What is the EU doing to make the agri-food sector more environmentally sustainable?

    Well, as we see in the Common Agricultural Policy proposals that we published in June 2018, we have doubled the amount of funding in relation to actions on climate, and we have to make sure that these targets are met by every member state, and by each sector, in line with the Paris international agreements. Also, we are linking every cent of the Common Agricultural Policy to climate and environment action in areas of conditionality, and in areas of direct investments. So, we have to make sure that our farmers play their part.

    Your home county, Kilkenny is famous for its success in hurling, Ireland’s national sport. Which Commissioner do you think would make the most formidable hurler?

    Oh, I would certainly say the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, he has mastered the concept of the political side-step – which is very important in hurling. He’s always one step ahead of the game as well.

    According to Eurostat, by 2050, the population of Europe’s urban regions is projected to increase by 24.1 million people. By contrast, the population of rural regions is projected to fall by 7.9 million. How is the Commission going to tackle rural depopulation and revitalise our rural areas?

    Well I am very conscious of this major challenge for the vitality and vibrancy of our rural communities. And this is why I convened all stakeholders in 2016 to a conference in Ireland, and we adopted the Cork 2.0 declaration for rural areas. And we are now implementing these proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy reform; which require investments by every member’s state in rural areas.

    Also in broadband connectivity, and in the concept of smart villages – which is putting the focus on village settlements to ensure that they have all the connectivity and social, economic and environmental capital that they need for people to live there. And if we focus on these issues in the context of our pillared funding in our Common Agricultural Policies and our Rural Development Policies, I think this would make a big difference in the next 7 years.

    What are the three things you must have in your suitcase when you travel?

    Well apart from the usual necessities I need an iPad, I need a good book to read for the long-haul flights, and of course I need to have the latest proposals and policy papers from the Martens Centre!

    Ireland is going to be the EU member state most impacted by Brexit. How is the Commission preparing to shield Ireland’s vital agri-food sector from the effects of the UK’s withdrawal?

    Well first of all the European Commission on the whole has really acknowledged the unique difficulties that would emerge in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, and this is appreciated by the Irish people. We now have 95% of the people of Ireland in recent surveys saying that they are very pro-European. So, I am very pleased about this. And Mr. Barnier and Mr. Juncker have made it clear on many occasions that it’s Ireland first.

    But of course, we are developing the necessary responses in all of the Commission to help all member states, including Ireland, in the event of a hard Brexit. And we will see in the event of a hard or soft Brexit that we’re able to cope with some of the difficulties in Ireland. We want to maintain the peace process, and we want to maintain the strong trading relationships between Ireland and the rest of Europe in the event that we are cut off from some of the opportunities in mainland Europe by the bridge that we have through the UK at the moment.

    So, many challenges, but European solidarity is very much appreciated in Ireland.

    The EU recently signed off on a free trade agreement with Japan. What will the benefits for Europe be?

    Well most of the tariffs have been eliminated, and particularly on industrial goods, and we have the biggest trade deal ever achieved by the European Union. Japan represents 120 million people, but it represents about a quarter of the world’s GDP, and therefore it is certainly a contributing factor to the enormous amount of purchasing power for European and Japanese consumers alike, when we join together as 630 million people. So, this in agriculture and industry is a wonderful opportunity, and we already see the benefits of it.

    Guinness or Kilkenny Beer?

    Kilkenny; it’s brewed in Kilkenny, my native city.

    Which comes next: US or China trade deal?

    US is to be expected, if they start to behave themselves a bit better.

    The ‘1-hectare Initiative’ or ‘Trees for Kids’?

    ‘Trees for Kids’ because it’s nice to see the young generation embracing the climate and environment impact of more deforestation as quickly as possible.

    Agriculture Brexit Centre-Right EU Institutions Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Phil Hogan

    I Say Europe

    27 Jun 2019

  • 5 things to remember from the last four weeks:

    1. OMG. Turnout increased, for the first time in years, reversing decades of decline. In some member states, like Germany and Poland, the increase in the number of voters going to the polls was spectacular. With more than 50% turnout, the European Parliament elections performed better than the US midterm elections.

    This will certainly give a boost to the legitimacy of the European Parliament, but the effect will be short-lived, as in half a year nobody will talk about it anymore. If you’re not convinced of this, ask yourself: did the low turnout in 2009 affect the European Parliament, except for in the immediate post-election analysis season?

    2. Wow. The opinion polls were right. A Green wave was expected, but only in the North-West of the Union. Similarly, the Liberals grew, but only because of electoral doping, not because of winning the elections: the extra seats won by the LibDems (a temporary effect that will wear off once Brexit has taken place) and the alliance with Macron’s Renaissance.

    Also as predicted, the Grand Coalition of EPP and S&D is not so grand anymore, since it lost its absolute majority for the first time since the direct elections of the Parliament in 1979. But here too there is more continuity than change, as the Grand Coalition already ceased to exist in the second half of the 2014-2019 legislature. Remember that Antonio Tajani was elected President without the support of the S&D Group.

    3. Relax. The populists caused a wave, but not a tidal wave. Matteo Salvini and his friends gained seats but have not been able to put together the 3rd largest EP Group. This is basically because of internal disagreements in the ‘populist’ family and because of the decreased popularity of parties like FPÖ and the Danish People’s Party. In other words: the populists are here to stay, but with winners and losers, like everyone else.

    4. More representative? Seriously? Some claimed the new European Parliament is more representative. Fine, but wait, more representative vis-à-vis what or whom? Thanks to the Green and the populist wave, the new Parliament is certainly differently composed – and much more fragmented – compared with the outgoing Parliament; but that is exactly what elections are for.

    Or are some claiming that the votes in 2014 were not representative? Or that voters in 2014 did not vote for the right parties? If it means that a new parliament is more up to date with the voters’ opinion, then it applies to every election, not only this one, and as such the statement is meaningless.

    5. Stability versus change. During the campaign, but also when the votes are cast and the battle for interpretation starts, some favour stability, while some favour change. Interestingly, on election night EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made a plea for stability, stating that now it is not the time for revolution.

    ALDE Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager, by contrast, reminded the audience that as the Commissioner responsible for Competition Policy, she worked to break corporate monopolies, and announced her intention to do the same with political monopolies. Clearly, Vestager wants to oust the EPP from the Commission Presidency.

    PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans was much more diplomatic – after all, that is his profession. He had probably already foreseen that an anti-EPP-coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the extreme-left would still narrowly lack a majority.

    5 things to look forward in the coming days and weeks:

    1. The informal European Council two days after the elections resulted in a draw. Neither the heads of state and government nor the European Parliament group leaders were able to impose something, neither a Spitzenkandidat nor the end of the Spitzenkandidaten system.

    While the Europarty delegations meet in order to help forward the search for a package deal (Commission, European Council, Parliament and European Central Bank presidents), Donald Tusk has the formal task of finding a majority within the European Council for the nomination of a new Commission President. If he fails to do so by 20-21 June, there is still some time left for an extra Summit before the new Parliament meets on 2 July.

    2. The first thing the European Parliament has to do, however, is to vote on a president. Likely, this will indicate the composition of the working majority for the 2019-2024 legislature.

    3. Next, onto the positions, where there is an ongoing battle over content. Formally, the Commission is in charge of setting the agenda for the next five years, given its prerogative of legislative initiative. However, both the European Council and the European Parliament want to have a say on this strategic agenda. In other words: will the new deputies or the member state governments decide what the priorities of the new Commission will be?

    4. Once the Commission President-elect is known, national governments will be asked to nominate their Commissioners. This raises the question: what kind of strategy will the governments of Poland, Hungary, etc. follow? Will they oppose the Commission by sending candidates with clear Eurosceptic profiles, relying on these Trojan horses to undermine from within? Or will they accommodate the new Commission President, hoping to receive powerful portfolios for their Commissioners in return?

    5. Brexit. Exactly in the same period, the Tories will choose a new leader. He (there are no female candidates left) will become the new UK Prime Minister. In any case, October 31st is the new Brexit deadline. Preparing for a no-deal scenario or granting another extension will be the responsibility of the ancien regime, but whatever the outcome will be, it will be an issue on the table for everyone taking up political responsibility in the EU for the forthcoming 5 years.

    Steven Van Hecke Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership

    Steven Van Hecke

    4 weeks after the European Elections: what to remember and what to watch out for?


    19 Jun 2019

  • European security and defence cooperation has seen more progress

    in the past several years than it had in the previous 60 years.

    But have we reached strategic autonomy yet?

    The development of autonomous European security and defence cooperation has been characterised by unprecedented dynamism and vigour in recent years. European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen once noted that the EU has made more progress in this area in the past several years than it had in the previous 60 years. He is correct.

    Since 2016, the EU has, inter alia, set up a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence for harmonising its members’ defence planning and procurement cycles, established Permanent Structured Cooperation for voluntary (but legally binding) project-based capability development, and launched a European Defence Fund for funding joint defence research and capability development projects. Such progress would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

    The progress has not been limited within the framework of the EU, however. In 2018, France and its closest European partners launched the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) to enhance contacts between the participating countries’ armed forces and, in the long-term, to facilitate the emergence of a common strategic culture. In 2019, France also setup an Intelligence College in Europe to improve the connectivity and visibility of European intelligence cooperation. Although European in character, these structures are outside the EU.

    The quest for strategic autonomy

    The purpose of all these new initiatives is to facilitate Europe’s quest for ‘strategic autonomy’, its grand strategic ambition. Strategic autonomy as an idea was introduced to the general public by the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy. Although the document mentions strategic autonomy five times, it makes no effort to define the term. However, strategic autonomy can be understood as the ability to act on the world stage but especially in Europe’s neighbourhood without third-party (i.e. American) assistance.

    This kind of autonomy depends on several things. It depends, first of all, on Europe having the capabilities that enable it to handle various crises and challenges. In the past, Europe’s effectiveness as an actor has often been undermined by shortages in specific capability areas.

    In 2008, Russia contributed four helicopters to an EU-led operation in Chad because the Union could not get its own member to contribute a sufficient number of helicopters. During NATO’s 2011 operation in Libya, European countries quickly depleted their stocks of smart munitions and had to purchase stockpiled munitions from the US.

    The good thing about capabilities is that they are material in character: they can be researched, developed and purchased for a price. However, strategic autonomy is not just about muscle; it is also about a specific mindset that enables an actor to use its capabilities when necessary. In the past, this has often proven challenging for Europe.

    Due to its member states’ reluctance act in areas in which they have no immediate interests at stake, EU action has often fallen below of what was initially required (e.g. in Mali in 2013), been prohibitively slow (e.g. in the Central African Republic in 2014) or non-existent (e.g. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008).

    Not just about institutions and capabilities

    In fact, Europe’s ability to achieve strategic autonomy is likely to depend far less on Brussels-based institutions and the acquisition of capabilities than it will on Europe’s ability to overcome what could be labelled as the ‘aspirations-leadership gap’: a gulf between Europe’s desire to become a fully-fledged international actor and the level of leadership that especially big European countries are willing show in turning that desire into reality.

    To illustrate this, think of NATO. Contemporary discussions on strategic autonomy often miss that NATO is an effective actor not because it would have its own army (it doesn’t), because it would use qualified majority voting for decision making (it doesn’t), or because it would have its own resources (it doesn’t). Instead, NATO is able to act because the US is the Alliance’s de facto leader. When push comes to shove, Washington has had—at least in the past—the authority to bang heads together and convince its allies over the necessity of action.

    The EU has no such leader. France tries to play this role and has some claim to it by virtue of its defence spending and highly capable armed forces. However, most EU countries don’t share many of France’s strategic priorities in areas such as the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. Germany could play this role but is unwilling to do so due to its semi-pacifist strategic culture that has been shaped by its difficult twentieth-century history.

    Finally, the UK, arguably Europe’s most capable country, is expected to leave the EU sometime in the not-too-distant future and is in no position to show leadership on any European issue for a long time.

    A possible solution for closing the aspirations-leadership gap might be to utilise various core groups or directorates more actively. Indeed, this seems to be the direction where Europe is heading with initiatives such as PESCO and the EI2.

    French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris, to which he also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, is also a step in the right direction but should be expanded to make such meetings geographically more representative of Europe’s diversity. They could also help in paving the way for the creation of some kind of European Security Council, an idea that is being discussed.

    These and other plans currently on the table such as the formation of a ‘European army’—most likely by expanding and revising the EU’s existing battlegroup concept—need to be discussed openly. When choosing the EU’s next foreign policy chief after the European elections, the member states should also prioritise the appointment of someone who enjoys a high level of confidence in all major European capitals to improve the general effectiveness of EU foreign policy.

    Every little helps in closing the aspirations-leadership gab but the main effort needs to come from the member states themselves.

    Niklas Nováky EU Institutions EU Member States Leadership Security

    Niklas Nováky

    Europe’s aspirations-leadership gap


    20 May 2019

  • Last time when the Spitzenkandidaten succeeded, many people believed that it was a kind of miracle. But of course we know that miracles are normally relatively rare and even in the Catholic church, before they decide that something was a miracle they have some expert groups or scientific advice.

    It takes a year, sometimes it takes decades, sometimes it takes centuries. So we should not be too quick to assume that it was a miracle. I rather believe that there were some objective preconditions, but also some subjective preconditions for that success. And I think that it is useful to  remember them also in view of where we are right now for the 2019 European elections.

    The objective preconditions were that the Treaty had been changed in three critical parts. First, it asked the European Council to make a proposal taking into account the outcome of the European Elections. Secondly, the European Council was requested, before it made that proposal, to consult with Parliament to see which candidate would have the chance of a qualified majority.

    And thirdly, the language for what Parliament is doing was changed: it is now saying the European Parliament “elects”. The key moment as foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty is now the election of the European Commission President by Parliament. The Treaty was changed in three crucial parts  and therefore it would have been very strange if the procedure would have been exactly the same as before.

    I think objectively there was also a special situation because there was a higher need for legitimacy. Remember the 2008 financial crisis. We said 2008, but in fact it was not limited to a year, it was a long stretched-out process. In the course of that crisis, the EU needed to take a lot of decisions which sometimes were perceived as extremely tough by citizens.

    Think about Greece, think later about Cyprus, think about some other countries. Objectively the need to improve the degree of legitimation in the system had become higher. People wanted to know that they had a say on somebody who can impose those kind of decisions. Also objectively, I think the Parliament decided early to invest. 

    We decided one and a half year before the European elections, so roughly in January 2013, that the motto for the elections should be “This time it’s different, choose who’s in charge”. If you say “choose who’s in charge” it is the offer to determine through  European Parliament Elections who should lead the executive.

    And we followed-up with invitations to 1000 journalists in Brussels, we ran our whole campaign on it. We did something administrations are normally not doing. Normally administrations go for “low risk, low return” strategies. Think a moment about it: low risk, low return. Instead we decided to go for “high risk, high return”.

    We took a high risk, because if it had gone wrong, people would have said “they are stupid, they did not understand, they could have known in advance”.  But if successful, the positive outcome for democracy in the European Union would be strong and that is what we went for.

    It has been said already that this success was not a foregone conclusion, but the degree to  which  there  was  doubt  in  the  system  nevertheless  should  be  remembered.  It  was regarded as so unlikely that ambassadors decided collectively to remain deeply asleep. Because it would not happen anyhow. So no need to alert capitals. It would not happen. The general disbelief was enormous.

    I was invited to numerous discussion fora to present, and normally the outcome was “very interesting idea, of course it’s not going to happen”. There was a sense of general disbelief that this could ever come into being. But it’s equally true that there is also no guarantee today. Therefore, I would like to mention the critical informal preconditions of success 2014 we have to be aware of. 

    There were formal preconditions for success, objective preconditions for success, but there were also informal, subjective preconditions for success. I would like to name five. First point, the principle of the European Council, which was applied ever since Jacques Delors left office, which is that the office should go to one of us, which means not one of us, one of them, one of the heads of state or government. Jean-Claude Juncker was, I think, the ultimate Council insider.

    Nobody  around the table had so many years in the European  Council.  Before he was Minister for Finances and Minister for Labour and probably Minister for half of the other cabinet posts in Luxembourg as well. Nobody was so much a Council insider and the principle they had applied after Jacques Delors, that it should be one of us, was respected with the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker.

    The candidate’s, the successful candidate’s cross-party appeal was very strong. If I read it correctly in the newspapers, Juncker is saying from time to time “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. So if I were to be a Social Democrat that would be a message which would not make me very unhappy.

    So he is saying I’m a Christian Social Democrat. Of course he could say I’m a Christian democrat, but he likes to say I’m a Christian Social Democrat. So from the point of view of Social Democrats, he was surely the most acceptable EPP candidate for Commission President. Because of where he positioned himself.

    Thirdly, the core groups in the Parliament were absolutely united in this institutional battle. And fourth point, some of the key actors concentrated the decision making power in the final phase which made coordination needs much less heavy. Martin Schulz was Group President and lead candidate and outgoing President of the European Parliament. Joseph Daul  was  outgoing  Group  President  and  EPP President. 

    Which  means  that Joseph  Daul  had  to  coordinate  with  himself  and  Martin  Schulz  had  to  coordinate  with himself and then they had to coordinate with each other. It is a slight simplification, but not too much. Of course coordination among themselves was not so difficult because that is exactly what they had been doing the last five years. So that means the decision making process in the critical phase could be based on trust and could be based on concentration of key decision making functions. 

    The fifth point was that there was already the spirit, others would say the demon, of the big coalition in the room. I would have said the spirit, but others maybe would have had a less positive view of this. So there was this idea of a big coalition in the room. I strongly believe that these were five informal preconditions, subjective preconditions which made success in 2014 not only more likely, but in the end, possible. 

    None of those informal preconditions exist anymore. None of the candidates is former Prime Minister or Head of State and  Government.  It’s true that some had government responsibility, but nobody has been a member of the European Council. This time we are asking from the European Council to abandon the principle of “one of us” which they have insisted on ever since Jacques Delors left. 

    Secondly, these are all very strong candidates, but on the EPP side there is no candidate who is saying “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. Of course he is coming from the Christian Social  Union  –  so  that’s  getting  close,  right?  –  These  are  normal  candidates  from  their parties, but whether they have specific cross-party appeal remains to be seen, but I would dare to say not to the degree of Jean-Claude Juncker. 

    Thirdly, we have a kind of question mark in the liberal family behind the concept, where Macron has insisted that he would not join anything or anybody or support anybody who has  been  in  favour  of  the  lead  candidates.  We  can  clearly  see  that  the  posts  of responsibilities  are  more  divided  between  different  persons.  So  that  means  after  the elections and already before the elections, but especially in the crucial hours and days after the election, the need for coordination between different and independent actors will be much higher. 

    And five, the big coalition is broken. We do not have a big coalition. We could see that already at half-term there was no longer an alliance to elect the President of the European Parliament.  So  those  five  elements,  informal  preconditions  for  success,  which  made  it easier last time, will not be available this time. If it is to be successful the core forces will have to come together very quickly.

    Between the parties and inside the parties, between the groups and inside the groups, and between the Spitzenkandidaten, there has to be an effort, stronger than last time, to come together and to ensure that the Spitzenkandidaten principle is again applied. 

    On the other hand, there are positive elements for the Spitzenkandidaten which were not present last time. First, I think we have learned in the meantime that there is strong public support for the fact that citizens should have a say in who is running the executive. That was one of the key learning points last time round. When some of the Prime Ministers were wavering, the reaction they got, especially from the press, was extremely harsh. So they have learned, that this does not come cost free, but that it has a political price. 

    Secondly,  we  know  from  the  last  election  that  the  Spitzenkandidaten  system  has  the potential to increase participation in elections for at least about 12%. We know that last time in the countries where the Spitzenkandidaten were the most present, in after-election opinion polling 12% of the voters said they voted because of the Spitzenkandidat. If you take for example Germany where they were very active, we had a participation rate which was clearly going up, the same for Austria, the same for Luxembourg. So the potential is there. 

    Third, we had and we will have an even stronger media engagement which will also restrain politically afterwards. Forth, we have a much longer campaign, we have a better financed campaign, we have a better organised campaign. Last time Jean-Claude Juncker came to his position a little bit to his own surprise, very last minute. Nowadays all the political parties are planning this for  months,  conducting  their  campaigns  for  months,  are  present  all  over  Europe  for months. The outreach this campaign is having is much bigger and more important. 

    And fifth, all the Prime Ministers this time have been very solidly involved in the selection process of their candidates. None of them can say he didn’t know, he was not consulted, he is not in agreement. 

    We are expecting a Parliament which will be more divided because of developments in national party systems. This also means that the potentially available majority to carry a candidate will be smaller than last time. If that majority is smaller, it also means that the space for the European Council to disregard the Spitzenkandidaten is shrinking massively.

    Because if only you lose one of the three major groups, or if only you lose an important part  of  one  of  the  three  major  groups,  you  are  losing  any  potential  majority  for  a Spitzenkandidat in that system. Therefore, the European Council will also have to realise that in fact its own choice is limited.

    There are many definitions of democracy. I like the one which is “democracy is if you can change your government without bloodshed”. I know it is a very basic definition, but it is important and until very recently, there were some question marks whether as a citizen in Europe you could change your executive without bloodshed.

    How should you do that? You were not asked that question. You were just asked the question to elect members of Parliament.  So  with  the  Spitzenkandidaten,  under  the  existing  Treaties,  we  have established a clear relationship between citizens, parliamentary majority and the head of the executive. I think, and I fear, that for quite some time we will have to work with the existing Treaty, small changes here or there not to be excluded.

    Which means that  our systematic approach has to be to maximise the unused potential under the Treaty. The Spitzenkandidaten is the prime example how this can be a very successful strategy, changing the constitutional nature of the EU. 

    Speech delivered at the Martens Centre event “25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What does the Future hold?”, Brussels, 5 March 2019

    Klaus Welle Elections EU Institutions Leadership

    Klaus Welle

    25 years of Spitzenkandidaten: what does the future hold?


    03 May 2019

  • The perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic.

    In 2008-2010 I served as secretary general of Felipe Gonzalez’s reflection group on the future of Europe. The title of its final report was “Project Europe 2030”. While several recommendations remain valid, I have been gradually realizing that the title was a mistake.

    That it is exactly this kind of understating of the European Union that is holding us back. The Union is not a project. It is not an unfinished project. It is a product. It is a product of countless thinkers, politicians, civil servants and citizens. It is a result of centuries of dreams and decades of institution building.

    The Union is here to be utilised. It is not here to be upgraded, rebuilt or reformed. With the coming European elections, political parties and politicians are publishing their election platforms. Promising change has always been an effective political strategy. Almost everyone is promising some kind of a reform of the Union.

    The other usual strategy to motivate voters is creating some kind of sense of urgency. It is supposed to be urgent to reform the Union. Because of populism, economic crisis, Brexit, migration … What I will explain is that most reforms are neither urgent, nor possible, nor reasonable.

    Project ‘socially just Europe’?

    The reform that the progressives are promising is in the direction of a fairer, more social Europe. What they understand by justice is redistributive justice. This is not something that can be achieved on the EU level. For the Union to redistribute between the rich and the poor it simply does not have the budget.

    Technically it could create such a budget but the citizens are willing to show solidarity within their group, their nation-state. It is quite unlikely that the, say, Germans would be willing to pay for Italian social benefits. Such promises are just creating expectations which, when unfulfilled will create the disillusionment with the European project.

    The other possible interpretation of more socially just Europe is for the Union to instruct member states how they should redistribute between the rich and the poor. But it does not have this competence. Indeed, it could be reformed to get it. But it would be stupid to centrally prescribe the social model, harmonize tax policies, social security policies etc.

    The strength of Europe has always been diversity and the opportunity for different countries to search for solutions in different directions. Then we have been quick to learn from each other. The social model innovation will be important because of the changes in the labour market caused by the technological revolution therefore it is important to keep Europe innovative in this regard. In summary, more social Europe is mostly hot air.

    Project ‘ever closer Union’?

    The reform that the liberals are advocating is an ever-closer Union. United States of Europe. Union of European Socialist (well, liberal) Republics. This is not impossible. An ever-closer union has been a kind of underlying belief of Brussels European, of the EU administration. It is the “project Europe” by excellence.

    The project would be unfinished until there is a European super-state. Such as state is possible. But it is not possible for it to be democratic. For one simple reason. Democracy assumes there is a demos. There is no European demos. There are demoi – Germans, French, Slovaks etc. Demos is not an intellectual construct that could be created by good PR coming from Brussels. It is a feeling of belonging. And according to Eurobarometer, Europeans identify with their nations an order of magnitude more than they identify with the European Union.

    A monolithic Europe is also not European. It does not matter if European competitors, like China, are growing stronger. China has always been a centralized empire. Europe’s strength has been its diversity. In fact, periods of fastest progress were when European entities were competing with each other – like rivalries among ancient Greek states, among city states of renaissance Italy, among the members of the Hanseatic league, among the kingdoms on the Atlantic competing for colonies.

    Even when it looked that the Catholic Church would create a single authority over the continent Martin Luther rebelled. The Italian renaissance from which Emmanuel Macron is borrowing a title for his vision was a result of a competition among many city-states of ununified Italy and not a centrally driven project.

    Generally, the Union is close enough. Macron’s plan is an “ever-closer union light” with a couple of new Brussels agencies, including the rather scary “European agency for the protection of democracies”. Centrally policing the political systems in member states sounds like something from the Warsaw pact playbook.

    Yes, human rights, freedoms and liberties need to be guaranteed at the European level and the EU would do well to position itself as the ultimate defender of human rights on the continent. But is should be the judicial arm, not the political executive that should be dealing with it.

    Project ‘Europe of Nations’?

    The far right rather unintelligibly pasted the idea of nation copied from a member state context to a Union context. While one can understand (though not endorse) the idea of the national populists to pit the original citizens against immigrants, the French against the Arabs, the Germans against the Turks, etc., Europe of nations suggests those ethnicities are represented at the European level.

    Which is very different from the Union of the member states, which is what we have today and works reasonably well. Member states are represented at the European Councils, states elect representatives into the European Parliament, states appoint one Commissioner to the European Commission. This reform too is hot air, a dangerous one.

    Even further to the right are those whose reform would be to dismantle the Union altogether. Which might get them some protest votes. But they can only advocate the breakup of the Union while there are enough of us who understand that the Union is a tremendously valuable achievement and want to protect it.

    Project Europe?

    The problem with projects is that they are by definition unfinished. They require attention. They are an excuse that work they should be doing is not done properly.

    Imagine a family starting a project of a summer home. As long as the summer home is a project they work on the summer home. They do not enjoy it for vacation. They don’t go sunbathing, they are adding another porch. If the stove is not working properly it is because it is a project. It will work when the project is finished, but not yet. Guests should tolerate some cold. Temporarily, of course.

    Thinking of the EU as a project is preventing us from exploiting in full what we have built so far. Instead of thinking how to solve problems at hand – such as migrations, terrorism, security, growth, innovation – the institutions are tempted to think how these problems could be solved if the institutions were reformed, if the project was more advanced, if only Brussels had this or that authority, if only this or that agency existed in Brussels.

    Instead of making use of what is available, administration is tempted to dream of what would be nice to have. For politicians too, advancing the project is a more noble call than using the institutional and legal tools the project has created so far.

    Of course, we need to work on improving the Union. Like living organisms, the Union needs to adapt to a changing environment. What could be needed is an evolution for which current treaties provide many possibilities. If the political will is there. It is the lack of political will not the inadequacies of the treaties that is preventing action.

    Perspective is important. And the perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic. In the service of the citizens, businesses, regions, member states. It should provide services that make life safer, easier and the economy more competitive and productive.

    This does not sound as noble as starting a renaissance, but someone has to do this as well. As Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote, there is work to be done. Let’s just do it.

    This op-ed was originally published on Euractiv.com.

    Žiga Turk Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Integration Values

    Žiga Turk

    Europe is not a project!


    26 Mar 2019

  • Democracy needs to be improved and updated. Today, due to the fast-changing nature of our society, democratic structures have difficulty to respond to the demands for more participative and transparent political processes, both at national and EU level.

    However, it is often easier to ask for an improvement than to propose solutions. This is also the case with the improvement of democracy, which is ultimately defined by the way people discuss, interact and come to an agreement. All these characteristics have not essentially changed even though the modern means of communication have.

    Events like Gilets jaunes demonstrations in France underline the importance of involvement in the democratic process of ordinary people. For some years now, high expectations have been put on the power of Internet to bring people closer to politics as well as on direct democracy tools such as direct voting. However, various Internet-based political initiatives have not been groundbreaking, and after the Brexit referendum doubts are increasing whether the direct vote is the way to go to improve democracy.

    The Irish Example

    Citizens’ Assembly, Ireland’s own example and experience with innovating deliberative democracy, is worth studying when tackling politically sensitive and potentially divisive topics.

    For years, the topic of abortion was seen in Ireland as a highly controversial theme. The establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly proceeded two previous assemblies (The independent We the Citizens initiative in 2011 and the government sponsored Convention on the Constitution from 2012-2014) which helped to create space and acceptance for the assembly.

    The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was launched in November 2016. Ninety-nine citizens from across Ireland gathered in Dublin to begin a national conversation on abortion. Assembly members were selected by a private marketing research firm hired by the government aiming to be broadly representative of the Irish society, based on citizens’ geographic location, gender, age and social class.

    The results of the Assembly’s final, highly anticipated vote were released on April 2017: 87% of the Assembly voted in favor of easing the Irish abortion restrictions. In their formal report to the Irish Parliament, participants recommended legislation legalising abortions.

    The Irish Citizens’ assembly showed that purposeful smaller representative groups can indeed make a difference. The Assembly facilitated the presentation of various views and insights on the topic. The media coverage of presentations triggered intensive discussion and expert input and the forum informed public opinion and thus facilitated greater understanding of the issues.

    However, the Assembly still had relatively limited public visibility and the majority of the population was not aware that the assembly actually took place. Thus, it is important that such a process is supported by the political system in order for the opinions to reach the public debate. For example, the University College of London organized a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, but due to total lack of visibility, the assembly did not have any impact on the public debate.

    An EU Citizens’ Assembly?

    The European Parliament has a clearly defined role to represent European citizens. However, the question whether a European Citizens’ Assembly, with an advisory role, could be valuable in engaging with the citizens when the EU has a clear decision to make, remains.

    The Irish example shows that a Citizens’ Assembly is the most effective when the debate is on a specific topic. An EU’s Citizens’ Assembly could take place when discussing enlargement, trade agreements or major EU institutional changes. The first Citizens’ Assembly should have a limited lifespan, related to a topic. If the Assembly was a success, it could be relaunched.

    A European Citizens’ Assembly with rotating members could enforce the view that the EU is accessible to ordinary citizens and enforce the dialogue between the EU institutions and its citizens. The Assembly could bring some fresh air to Brussels and provide the Brussels-based EU officials with a better sense on the concerns of citizens.

    In any case, the Citizens’ Assembly is a tested and useful idea when considering a referendum in EU member states. In the Irish case it created a basis for a passionate, yet rational debate leading to a decision which did not appeal to everyone, but which the Irish society was able to digest. In light of the current situation with Brexit, that is what one would hope from all referenda.

    Tomi Huhtanen Brexit Democracy EU Institutions Innovation Society

    Tomi Huhtanen

    An EU Citizens’ Assembly to enforce European democracy?


    19 Feb 2019

  • I say Europe you say..?

    Peace, freedom, good living standards, protection without protectionism.

    You have been nominated by Alexander Stubb and his question was: Marianne, you had a fantastic career in Belgian and European politics. You have been a role model for many of us in the EPP. What are you going to do next?

    Next year I will continue to focus on my job as Commissioner and work hard for a stronger social Europe. It is not enough to launch proposals in order to achieve results for citizens; we also need to finish them. The planes in the air must land.

    This is my big priority until the end of the mandate. Afterwards, I hope my life will take on a new dimension. But I’m not thinking of that yet because my focus is on the next 12 months.

    What was the first job/gig you had before entering the world of politics?

    My very first job was assistant at the law faculty of my alma mater, KU Leuven. Then I worked more than 10 years for the most representative Belgian SME organisation UNIZO, one of the founding members of SMEunited (former UEAPME).

    By defending the interests of SMEs and the value of strong social dialogue, I came into close contact with the political world. Herman van Rompuy, party leader of CD&V at that time, asked me to participate in the European elections and I became a member of the European Parliament in 1991.

    What is the most interesting myth about the EU that you needed to bust in your career?

    That Europe only works in the interest of big banks and companies. That’s a myth. We work for people. People is what Europe is about.

    You are the first female commissioner from Belgium and a strong advocate for equal pay. How far do you feel the EU has come in achieving equal pay?

    Europe has always been a pioneer in creating equal opportunities and fighting discrimination between men and women. We should be proud of that. The principle of equal pay was already an objective in the Treaty of Rome! Is that enough? No. There is still a pay gap of 16% and that’s unacceptable. We need to make it easier for women to choose both children and a career without being penalised.

    A very important step towards achieving this goal is to distribute the caring responsibilities between women and men in a more balanced way. That’s why my proposal for better work-life balance is so important.  In the context of demographic ageing and shortages that we face on the labour market, we cannot afford to leave the huge talent of women untapped. Our initiative can help to closing the pay gap. 

    We’ve witnessed a reform of Erasmus+ with new funds allocated to new opportunities for adult learning and vocational training. If you could picture yourself starting over and taking up a course, what would it be?

    Had I been given the opportunity, I would have definitely wanted to go on Erasmus! It’s a unique chance to learn another language, new skills and to become independent. That’s why I also created the newest baby in the Erasmus+ in the family: ErasmusPro. I want to make long-term mobility also possible for students in vocational and educational training.

    You’ve had an extensive career in Belgian politics and end your political career on a high note as European Commissioner. Would you say European politics was more challenging than national politics?

    Politics is challenging at all levels. I’ve been locally active for 14 years, I was a Member of the European Parliament for 23 years and I have been a Commissioner for five years now. We work on the same issues everywhere. Growth and jobs. Security. Innovation. Climate change. The challenge is to create a framework in which every person has the opportunity, freedom and responsibility to make something of his or her life.  To make sure we leave nobody behind. If all those levels work well together, we have the biggest chance at being successful.

    How to abolish the practice of social dumping whilst enabling the free movement of workers on European level?

    By making the rules clear, fair and enforceable. And that’s exactly what we did with this Commission’s work: to ensure fair labour mobility. With the deal on equal pay for equal work at the same place. And with our proposals to update the rules on social security coordination and to create a European Labour Authority.

    What was, in your personal view, the most interesting report or piece of data produced by the Eurostat during your mandate so far?

    Timely, consistent and reliable data is essential to develop and support our policy making. All data is important, but one of the things I always look forward to receiving is Eurostat’s monthly unemployment data. Every month, since I started this mandate, the figures are getting better. All our efforts are geared towards making sure we can sustain that trend.

    Whilst preparing for this interview I came across the fact that you are still cheering for your local football club and visiting their matches. Who was your favourite “Red Devil” this year in Russia?

    Football is a team sports so I have to disappoint, I don’t have any favourites. I think the Red Devils did an incredible job precisely because of how they played as a team.

    As you were the president of the European Parliament’s beer club for 15 years — may I ask you in the capacity of an expert to tell us which Belgian beer is your favourite one?

    Though it was a European club my favourite beer is of course Belgian – Orval.

    Choose one of the following: law or politics?

    Politics. Because first you need a vision and conviction to turn values into rights.

    Fries or waffles?

    Do you also offer pancakes?

    Leuven or Brussels?

    I’ll always be grateful to my alma mater.. so Leuven!

    Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?

    My dear colleague from the EPP, Mairead McGuinness. My question to her would be: “What is your message to European citizens ahead of the upcoming European elections?”

    EU Institutions European People's Party European Union Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Marianne Thyssen

    I Say Europe

    29 Nov 2018

  • Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.

    The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.

    So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.

    Populists love blaming the EU for everything that goes wrong in our societies, proclaiming that a return to a Europe made up of nation states is the only path forward. But when doing so, they should go beyond the ideology and look at the real consequences of such a shift. They should talk about how this will end open trade as we know it, how this will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU and how it will make the EU less safe.

    The European “super state” with its soulless bureaucracy and its ivory tower is an easy target cliché for those looking for a scapegoat. But people using that image swiftly find themselves in an awkward bind. If they say that citizens need a quid pro quo when paying taxes and only want their taxes to be used to build roads and bridges, they should also say that more often than not roads and bridges are payed for with EU funds. If they say that EU taxes would be an atrocity, they should stop saying that the EU’s external borders remain unprotected.

    So let’s speak the truth about the EU. The truth is that it wasn’t established by soulless bureaucrats but by people like Adenauer and Schuman and Spaak. Statesmen who had personally witnessed the horror and ruin of neighbours going to war with one another.

    A strong European Union  benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale.

    The EU started as a project to  safeguard peace across the continent. But over the years it became so much more, it became an ever-closer union. A Union of unprecedented economic and social welfare and shared values. Christian democrats have been the driving force behind that evolution, and the EPP remains the driving force to this day.

    We continue to ensure that the European Union is being democratically governed. Through the member states in the Council, through the representatives elected to the European Parliament by our people and through Commissioners who are delegated by the governments of their home nation.

    A strong European Union  benefits every European citizen. Not in spite of, but because of its large scale. We live in an era of fundamental geopolitical and economic shifts. The reality of today, the outside world in turmoil scares people, which is understandable. But capitalizing on those fears for electoral reasons and making protectionist pleas for a return to separate, individual nation states with closed borders, is reprehensible. In a world that is dominated by competing superpowers, even countries like France and Germany are small players.

    The European Union, representing 25% of the global economy, must speak with one voice on the global stage. It is the only way to defend our interests. Only in the Bible does David triumph over Goliath. If US President Donald Trump hasn’t yet implemented import tariffs on European steel, it is because the EU is taken seriously as a large trade block. I am sure he’d much rather negotiate directly and separately with Belgium or Italy or Hungary.

    Is this a plea for that infamous European “super state”? No, of course it isn’t. Our citizens aren’t interested in those kinds of institutional theologies that all too often dominate the debate on Europe. They don’t care about the colour of the cat, as long as it catches mice.

    Which mice should Europe catch?

    The EU is an economic success story. The internal market brings growth and prosperity, especially so for a very open economy such as Belgium’s. But the benefits and the added value become even clearer when things go wrong. With one member state preparing to leave the EU, the dark economic picture is getting clearer: for Belgium alone this may cost 2.2 billion euros in tariffs as well as the loss of 42,000 jobs.

    Yet I do not believe that Brexit will be the beginning of the end of the European Union. On the contrary, we already see that Brexit is bringing the remaining 27 members closer together.

    So, the European story is unfinished. We should get on with the creation of an Energy Union and a Digital Union because this is where tomorrow’s economic challenges lie. At the same time, we should recognize that Europe is more than a market. The European Union should protect its citizens. It should provide security and a level playing field.

    So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally.

    Under the guidance of Commissioner Thyssen and with the active support of the Belgian Government, we have taken significant steps towards a stronger social Europe and in the fight against social dumping. Equal pay for equal work in the same place has become a reality. We should build on this: before the European elections of 2019 we should reach an agreement on the creation of a European Labour Authority and on the Work-Life Balance Directive.

    In addition, the Union should continue its work in shaping a coherent migration policy and  better protection of our external borders. A European Union that is built on the rule of law and shared values owes it to itself to provide decent and humane assistance to refugees. We can manage this. But we cannot welcome the entire world to Europe.

    This is why we should focus more strongly on timely, quality assistance in the immediate vicinity of conflicts. And we need to know who is entering the EU. Controls at the European external borders need to be strengthened. That is why I plead for a further reinforcing of the European Coast and Border Guard and an increase in EU Border Guards from 1,200 to 10,000.

    Who will foot the bill?

    The EU Budget has for years amounted to more or less 1% of GNI. So, just 1% of our overall income goes to the EU; the other 99% is spent on other things. This is the order of magnitude and it will not change significantly. So let us not turn the 1% threshold into an obsession. I prefer 1.1% spent well, over 0.9% spent poorly. The proposal of the European Commission for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework seems a good basis to me.

    I do not welcome every aspect of course: in the context of Brexit and increasing pressure on Customs services in frontline countries like Belgium, the proposed decrease of the retention of Customs collection costs from 20% to 10% is simply unacceptable. But I also find a lot of interesting ideas in this future-oriented budget: the increase in spending on innovation, investments in human capital and the doubling of the Erasmus+ program.

    And yes, new own resources should be a possibility in my view. The proposal of a tax on non-recycled plastic waste is a creative proposal that can help the EU achieve its climate and environmental goals and create a better world for our children and grandchildren.  

    The limits of the nation state

    So no, we don’t find ourselves all of a sudden in a European demos that replaces the national identity. If nothing else, because our identity cannot be defined one-dimensionally. The notion that we cannot be Flemish if we want to be Belgian, or Belgian if we want to be European, is completely outdated.

    Today’s reality is that we have a multi-layered identity. We can feel Flemish, Belgian and European at the same time. Because in all of those identities we find a common past and we see a joint future. And that multi-layered identity requires multilevel governance, with real competencies and the necessary striking force. European democracy coincides with local democracy. It is the only way the European Union can strengthen our nations and vice versa.

    Kris Peeters Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    Kris Peeters

    Let’s speak the truth about the European Union


    29 May 2018

  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says: I’ll try again tomorrow! Mary Ann Radmacher

    In May 2019, about 400 million EU citizens are called to elect a new European Parliament: A Parliament which may seem physically remote from most of them but whose decisions increasingly affect their daily lives, as its decision making powers have consistently grown over recent decades.

    In this context, it seems completely logical to me that, as a Dutch citizen, I should be able to elect by direct universal suffrage a Spanish member of the European Parliament, or that a Greek could elect an Estonian – just as in most EU member states, I can elect at least part of the representatives to national or regional legislative assemblies on the basis of values, principles and political programmes, irrespective of where precisely they hail from.

    This is why the growing importance of the EU in general, and the growing competences of the European Parliament in particular sooner or later had to lead to a debate about transnational lists in European elections, too. It began in earnest in 2009 with the own initiative report of Andrew Duff (MEP) in the AFCO committee of the European Parliament. At the time, all major political parties applauded the idea of the introduction of a pan-European constituency. The core of his proposal was to create a legal basis for members to be elected to primarily defend European values, not some narrow locally or nationally defined interest.  

    But at the time, too many questions marks remained open and there was no time also for the national legislations, election lists and national campaigns to adapt to a new proposal. Nevertheless, the underlying logic of the Duff report was perfectly reasonable – and remains so today, even though basic elements such as the Europe-wide constituency have been blocked by the European Council.

    Fortunately, after the Duff report failure, most of the European political families, based on an ambitious interpretation of the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted and promoted the so called Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) process without any formal decision by the European Parliament and rules elaborating on this process.

    The Spitzenkandidaten are so important in this context because they help to polarise, politicise and personalise the European elections, thereby at the same time increasing the democratic legitimacy of the Commission President and the Parliament. This success story shows that, if the political will exists, ‘Just do it!’ is sometimes the right formula. And learning by doing often really works.

    In 2014, the issue of transnational lists resurfaced, with much the same result as before. And sure enough, in the run-up to the 2019 elections, this year the debate started again. The goals were the same as before: Further closing the gap between the citizens and the European Union and fostering democracy by giving more decision making power to the citizens – all long-standing expectations by citizens from the EU institutions.

    But the overall situation has changed fundamentally: While the economic and financial crisis is over, populism and anti-European behaviour are still on the rise, fuelled by the migration crisis. Brexit is coming. Again, the same reluctance as in the past has halted progress on transnational lists.

    The EPP political family is, in principle, a strong defender of this idea, as we were in the Spitzenkandidaten process that was also new in 2014. But it seems that the incomprehensible technicalities of the difficult and complex proposal were the factor that really made the idea of transnational lists fail again this time round.

    The proposal, as it was, threatened to fuel Euroscepticism and parliamentary candidates more known for their harsh, noisy and loud statements than for the European spirit. The proponents of this project also lost the media battle, increasing fears among moderate Europarty candidates of losing the battle against Euroscepticism, endangering their future jobs.

    The debate will continue: Europe always needs more time to digest bigger changes. One only needs to remember the debates on a common currency before finally adopting the Euro: They took 17 years. The next proposal, for the 2024 elections, must be better prepared, easier to grasp and tabled in time for national parliaments to adapt their legislation for the European elections.

    Most importantly, Europeans need to increase their knowledge of each other and of the EU institutions: More education on Europe in schools, extending the Erasmus programme, introducing free Interrail tickets for 18-year-olds. I believe we will see the day in which it is not only possible, but a normality for European voters that French can vote for Latvians, or Irish people for Swedes.

    Meanwhile, it is up to us in the big European party families to maintain and nurture, with a special kind of courage and persistence, the enthusiasm for an ever closer Union – because to that, there is no alternative.

    Juan Magaz Elections EU Institutions European People's Party Political Parties

    Juan Magaz

    Transnational lists: a wonderful idea in an EU without wonders


    27 Apr 2018

  • During the 2018 February plenary session, the European Parliament voted on its future composition after the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided to redistribute 27 of the current 73 UK seats among several EU member states which have been previously under-represented. The full-list of the proposed allocations can be found here.

    The house also debated whether some of the remaining available seats should be taken by MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency and through a ‘transnational list’ which would complement the national lists in the 2019 European elections. The European Parliament (EP) eventually voted against the proposal for transnational lists.

    What happens to the UK seats if there is no actual Brexit?

    The current 73 UK MEPs have been democratically elected for a full mandate until May 2019. These seats will not be available to the UK after the withdrawal from the EU becomes legally effective (expected on 29 March 2019). The EP proposed text specifies that in case the UK is still a member of the EU at the time of the 2019 elections these changes will not take place.

    The idea of transnational lists is great because I would be able to vote for candidates who would represent the European Union interests, correct?

    Not really. This is already the case with the traditionally elected MEPs who are sworn to represent the European Union’s interests while also remaining accountable to their national constituencies. Current MEPs sit in pan-European political families which are at the centre of the everyday work of the Parliament.

    The political engagement of every MEP within his European political family is key for his successful committee and legislative file work. Historically, most traditionally elected MEPs have guarded the Union interest and advanced pro-integration legislation whilst serving as a link between the national electorate and the supranational institution. Why destroy this link with transnational MEPs?

    But don’t you want to see a new type of Parliamentarians?

    Transnational MEPs would actually have to choose a European political family to align with and sit together with the ‘traditional’ ones or become independent. These ‘new’ Parliamentarians could demand additional legitimacy from their political family due to their allegedly upgraded mandate but would essentially have exactly the same rights and obligations as a traditional MEP. Becoming independent would leave them with limited speaking time, visibility, resources and overall ability to influence legislation which would be the exact opposite of the ideal pan-European delegate.

    What about making the MEPs more visible and strengthening the connection between voters and elected Members?

    This is precisely why having transnational lists would be a bad idea. The question can be answered with a series of open questions. How would a Member who has been elected with a different number of votes from different member states be held accountable? With which national electorate would they spend time during the weeks designated for constituency work?

    In what language would they communicate to their electorate? If the delegate eventually opens offices in his/her native member state and interacts with a local audience, what would be the point of having a transnational mandate?

    The old proverb “One who is everywhere is nowhere” would apply fully in this case. 

    Why not have a truly European race for votes in a European-wide constituency?

    The European-wide constituency was previously proposed in 2015 as part of the reform to the Electoral law of the EU. The file is still pending in the Council of the EU which is effectively stopping its development because of a lack of member state support. Even if the EP had voted in favour of transnational lists for 2019, this probably wouldn`t have been implemented in practice as the decision requires the unanimous approval of European heads of state or government (European Council).

    Having a single constituency for the 2019 elections which is based on proportional representation remains practically impossible. Such changes would have to be agreed beforehand with national/regional parliaments and implemented in national electoral laws on very short notice. Practical issues remain regarding the feasibility of hundreds of candidates campaigning across the EU in a 30-day time period to audiences with diverse political, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

    Globally there is no country or federation with such a huge number of eligible voters which produces proportionally elected Members from a single constituency. One might argue that the Spitzenkandidat process brings about an informal EU-wide constituency which actually works because it produces a single winner (see below).

    So I guess being against transnational lists makes you anti-European?

    Quite the contrary. Rushing in transnational lists in 15 months would produce an unbalanced process which could achieve an anti-European effect. The system would naturally give an advantage to bigger member states as they would cast the biggest number of ballots and most likely produce additional ‘bonus’ seats for Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

    An attempt to balance such a system with national, gender and maximum member quotas would take a lot of time and additionally cause party/voter frustration. Such a hasty top-down decision would backfire and be seen as an elite-driven initiative for institutional legitimacy which would further discourage voters and cement the `second order` status EP elections.

    The short time-frame for actual campaigning and communicating such a change would create very polarized voter groups (convinced anti-EU and strong pro-federalist segments) and ultimately produce extremely diverging MEPs who wouldn`t represent true transnational sentiment.

    How about engaging more EU citizens and contributing to the formation of a European demos? 

    The million-euro question about active citizen engagement on a regional, national and European level remains indeed open. However, we shouldn`t expect supranational institutions to be the only inventors and promoters of a European identity which may turn out to be artificial. The European Citizens` Initiative has been operational for more than 5 years and has produced disappointing results. This is a good example of how a top-down idea promising citizen involvement defeats its own purpose.

    The sensible goal for the 2019 elections would be to promote the lead candidate process (Spitzenkandidat) in which the European political families campaign their manifestos along with their leading candidate who they nominate for President of the European Commission. This is a workable solution which de facto produces a European-wide constituency as it is best suited to present a single winner from an extremely large number of votes.

    The 2014 EP elections were the first in which the new Commission president was elected with the support of the winning party and not appointed after a high-level political compromise behind closed doors. This achievement essentially gives European political parties a campaign face and makes the small but necessary step for politicizing EP election campaigns further. 

    Dimitar Lilkov Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Q&A: why introducing transnational lists in the 2019 European elections is a bad idea


    15 Feb 2018

  • Since 2015, the European Union (EU) has been discussing the idea of creating a European Security and Defence Union (ESDU). Although details are scarce, this means deepening cooperation between EU member states in the area of security and defence beyond what is currently done within the framework of the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

    ESDU: where we are so far

    The current discussion is driven by a recognition that the EU needs to do more in the area of security and defence. Three developments in particular have pushed ESDU to the top of the Union’s agenda. Firstly, its failure to deal with the 2011 Libya crisis and the 2014 Ukraine crisis without the United States (US).

    Secondly, the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) decision to leave the EU, or ‘Brexit’, which means that the Union will lose its strongest military power and the main obstacle for deeper defence cooperation.

    Thirdly, concerns about America’s willingness to defend its European allies under President Donald Trump in all circumstances.

    ESDU is not a new idea. It was first discussed during the Convention on the Future of Europe (CFE), which drafted the EU’s failed constitution in 2001-2003. During the CFE, France and Germany called for developing an ESDU on the grounds that ‘a Europe fully capable of taking action’ was not feasible without ‘enhancing its military capabilities’.

    The idea was also raised in April 2003 by France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. At the time, however, ESDU did not gain steam because Atlanticist EU member states—notably the UK—saw it as an attempt to undermine the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although the European Parliament (EP) brought up ESDU again in 2006, the idea remained more or less buried until 2015-2016.

    The current ESDU discussion differs from the 2002-2006 one because there is now much broader support for it. Since 2016, the European Commission, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EP, the Council of the EU, and various EU member states have expressed support for the ESDU.

    The European People’s Party (EPP), which has been leading the debate on EU defence since 1992, called for an ESDU ‘worthy of that name’ in June 2015. Germany’s 2016 security policy white paper also mentioned that achieving ESDU is Berlin’s ‘long-term goal’.[1] Furthermore, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2017 State of the Union address stated that the EU needs ‘a fully-fledged European Defence Union’ by 2025.

    Practical implications

    Although the idea of ESDU is gaining momentum, the current discussion has included surprisingly few details on what it would mean in practice as most of what has been said in public is vague. The Commission’s June 2017 Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence, for example, notes that an ESDU ‘will require joint decision-making and action, as well as greater financial solidarity at European level’; and that an ESDU ‘would be premised on the global strategic, economic and technological drivers, as well as a political push from European citizens for common European security and defence’.[2] This is hardly a blueprint.

    In all likelihood, ESDU will be a form of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) under articles 42(6) and 46 of the Treaty on EU (TEU). PESCO enables those member states ‘whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions’ to deepen their cooperation in the area security and defence beyond what some of their partners might be comfortable with.[3]

    Essentially, it would mean the creation of a defence ‘avant-garde’, ‘core group’, ‘pioneer group’ or ‘Eurozone’.

    If ESDU will be a “defence Eurozone”, what would be its “euro”? In other words, what would be the qualities that would distinguish ESDU members from non-members? The most detailed ESDU blueprint that the EU has so far produced has come from the EP.

    In a 2016 resolution, the Parliament expressed that an ESDU should, inter alia, offer guarantees and capabilities to EU member states beyond their individual ones, create a Council format for defence ministers, and turn the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE) into a full committee.[4] These are all good ideas, which should be implemented in their own right.

    A new blueprint

    However, such reforms are mainly about fine tuning the EU’s existing institutional structure. While this might improve the EU’s ability to respond to threats, they would not generate the types of capabilities that would be needed to protect European citizens and their territory.

    As the 2016 EPP Paper on Security and Defence states, this is the purpose of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Given that it should also be the main purpose of ESDU, it should be created around two main deliverables that would boost the EU’s ‘defence’ dimension: (1) an unqualified mutual defence commitment, and (2) a military Schengen area.

    First, given that not all EU members are NATO members and therefore not under the protection of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, ESDU participants should commit to defend each other in the event that one of them becomes subject to armed aggression through all means in their power, including military force.

    Although this sounds similar in tone to Article 42(7) of the Treaty on EU (TEU), the so-called mutual assistance clause, it is not. Article 42(7)’s mutual assistance commitment is rendered hollow by its second paragraph, which states that it ‘shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States’.[5] This means that the Article 42(2) can be interpreted in a highly subjective way. Thus, a genuine ESDU should include an unqualified mutual defence commitment.

    Second, in ESDU, there should be minimal to no obstacles to moving military forces and equipment from one state to another. At the moment, such movement is hindered by various bureaucratic requirements, such as passport checks at some border crossings.

    Furthermore, infrastructure problems, such as roads and bridges that cannot accommodate large military vehicles, create additional obstacles to the movement of military personnel and equipment in Europe. This is something that has also been called for by NATO, which means that it would also further boost EU-NATO cooperation.

    Where do we go from here? 

    ESDU should be created around an unqualified mutual defence commitment and a military Schengen area. These would form the core of the new defence core group, or the “euro” of a “defence Eurozone”.

    In addition, ESDU could include looser commitments, such as a commitment by the participating EU member states to invest a certain percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in defence; and a commitment to improve the EU’s existing rapid response capabilities, particularly the battlegroups. However, given that such commitments could eventually be ignored, they should not form the backbone of an ESDU.

    [1] Germany, Federal Government, White Paper 2016 on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (19 September 2016), 73.

    [2] European Commission, Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence, COM(2017) 315 (7 June 2017), 11, 14.

    [3] Art. 42(6), Treaty on European Union (TEU).

    [4] European Parliament, ‘European Parliament resolution of 22 November 2016 on the European Defence Union (2016/2052(INI))’.

    [5] Art. 42(7), TEU.

    Niklas Nováky Defence EU Institutions European Union Foreign Policy Security

    Niklas Nováky

    The European Security and Defence Union: how should it look like?


    30 Oct 2017

  • Much ink has been shed on the prospect of the emergence of a European public sphere, with several scholars, politicians, and journalists engaging in intense debates on the issue. While the times of ‘permissive consensus’ have passed, today the EU faces a series of challenges within the globalised environment, that require, inter alia, legitimate, accountable, and transparent action.

    In this regard, the establishment of a genuine European public sphere should be considered as more urgent than ever. The seminal State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech delivered by President of the European Commission (EC), Jean-Claude Juncker, seems capable to provide notable opportunities.

    Habermas has defined the public sphere as an intermediate open forum which is beyond the state and the market, where private citizens assemble in order to deliberate, problematise, criticise, debate, and (inter)act on equal terms with public authorities, in the context of constitutional democracy, having received knowledge and information by different associations and the media.

    This way individuals act as a counterweight to decision makers’ authority. Regarding the emergence of a European public sphere, a vast majority of researchers have adopted a media-related approach, through which the number of media outlets’ references to EU actors, policies, and politics is examined, while at the same time the content of the relevant information is analysed. The dominant view is that the increase of the EU’s visibility within media outlets will render the emergence of a European Public Sphere plausible.

    Besides, mass media hold a pivotal role in what we call a public sphere. They supply the public with information and enable them to monitor decision-makers’ activity, facilitating the electorates to decide among different competitive parties, thus paving  the way for citizens’ participation in politics or even challenging the legislative and executive branch.

    In the meantime, there is a broad consensus towards the argument of the Europeanisation of national public spheres instead of suggesting that a single and genuine pan-European public sphere has emerged. The lack of a common European identity, of a shared language and a European discourse as well as the limited capacity of pan-European media such as Politico, Euronews or EurActiv to reach wide constituencies outside of Brussels, have led various researchers to this conclusion.

    However, distinct events such as the annual speech of the President of the European Commission, which received great coverage across media outlets in Europe, and attracted the vivid interest of European constituencies, may lead many to reconsider their views.

    More concretely, more than 500 media outlets published related articles directly mentioning SOTEU with overwhelmingly positive tonality, while almost 1000 pieces referred in general to President Juncker on that day and the days that followed. At the same time, TV channels showed lively interest in the event, as approximately 150 of them reported on the speech. Not least, about half of them broadcasted live President Juncker’s address.

    Meanwhile, the number of viewers who watched the SOTEU live through social media and the Commission’s AV portal approached 1.5 million. As the speech was broadcast by TV channels and the European Parliament’s portal as well, one might reasonably assume that the current number was probably far more remarkable.

    Some of them seemed very pro-active on social media, posting and interacting about proposals and content of the speech. The SOTEU hashtag was used more than 80.000 times, while mentions to President Juncker were almost twice as much. The SOTEU hashtag was a worldwide top trend that day.

    Even without a qualitative analysis of this data, it is certain that President Juncker’s proposal on the Future of Europe, as well as his suggestions on key policies, provoked strong reactions and discussions among decision-makers, journalists, and ordinary citizens.

    Undoubtedly, it met the requirements that different scholars have set for the establishment of a genuine European Public Sphere (e.g. discussion of the same issues at a given timeframe, and indicating similar aspects of relevance among others).

    Although one might appear hesitant to admit that a genuine European Public Sphere can be established by any single event, regardless of how bright and seminal it could be, the SOTEU in conjunction with a series of key initiatives towards the strengthening of European democracy could prove to be decisive.

    The preservation of the lead candidates’ system, running for the Commission Presidency – the Spitzenkandidaten – the wide and inclusive Pan-European campaigns in the context of the European Parliament elections, the Citizens Dialogues, and other initiatives are some key examples.

    Certainly, a European Public Sphere will not emerge all of a sudden. Paraphrasing the historical words delivered by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, a European Public Sphere will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. Instead, it will be built through concrete initiatives and policies which first create a de facto solidarity and we-feeling. 

    Stergios Fotopoulos EU Institutions European Union Integration Leadership

    Stergios Fotopoulos

    The making of a European public sphere: the State of the Union 2017


    16 Oct 2017

  • The first question that needs to be answered is still the familiar one: ‘do we even need Europe at all, with all the expense it entails?’

    The answer, quite simply, is yes, because, unlike in the past, the traditional nation state can no longer protect its citizens and tackle the immense challenges it faces using only the instruments available at national level.

    For example: what is the use of the German government’s decision to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants if at the same time new plants of this type are being built in France and the Czech Republic? Is a system of national drug licensing fit for purpose now that citizens can buy medication anywhere in Europe?

    Does fighting cybercrime and tax avoidance at the national level stand any chance of success these days? What about environmental protection and competition law? When it comes to the limitations of national action, the list is endless. In these areas, the European level must be used on a supplementary—in other words, subsidiary—basis.

    In addition, Europe is urgently needed as a unified ‘voice of reason’, championing peace and stability in what has become an unpredictable world.

    Having answered the initial question in the affirmative, let us immediately turn to a second question, namely why it is still so difficult for many people to accept the European level, despite its importance. In response, I would say that the practical implementation of European policy requires a radical rethink: European decisions, by definition, must be geared towards what is best for Europe as a whole, rather than the good of individual nation states, as has often been the case up to now.

    Of course there may be divergences between the two. For example, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has justified his zero-interest policy (which is hopefully now nearing the end of the road) by emphasising his commitment to the European common good. Accepting this may be far from easy, but it is essential to Europe’s long-term success.

    The election of Emmanuel Macron as French president has fuelled great expectations of the new Franco-German partnership. These range from cutting youth unemployment and supporting neglected regions to curbing right-wing nationalism.

    However, simply handing out money would be expensive and entirely unhelpful. Instead, the following measures should be taken:

    • Support should be provided for an effective structural policy that will get the neglected regions back on the right track.
    • Dual education, combining apprenticeships with vocational training, should be introduced across Europe, as only this will create the conditions for successful small and medium-sized enterprises.
    • A genuine social partnership must be established between employers and trade unions throughout Europe; as long as these two key players continue to view each other as enemies, as is the case in some countries, the cooperation needed for economic success will remain out of reach.
    • The political class in southern Europe must have the courage to implement unpopular but inevitable reforms at national level, similar to the Agenda 2010 reforms undertaken in Germany. If you want a stable currency, you need to build an efficient economic structure.
    • The European level must facilitate economic development, and so enable job creation, by cutting red tape and preventing its further proliferation.
    • The European level must exert all its global influence to reject any attempts around the world to put up protectionist trade barriers. For our part, we in Germany should take seriously our neighbours’ recommendations to ‘normalise’ our high current account surplus through domestic investment.

    It is fair to say that European integration to date has been a huge success. Since Europe faced its darkest hour at the end of the horrific Second World War, the continent and Germany in particular have experienced an astonishing recovery.

    This success, unprecedented in history, was born of a number of factors, but European integration is certainly foremost among them. Only when enemies had become partners and friends could the foundations be laid for Europe’s new, universally admired role and importance on the world stage.

    To conclude, the long-term success of our own country, Germany, depends on the success of the European project. We are, indeed, already bound by a common destiny.

    Ingo Friedrich EU Institutions EU Member States Integration

    Ingo Friedrich

    Emmanuel Macron: where do we go from here?


    11 Sep 2017

  • I say Europe, you say…?


    Hans-Gert Pöttering’s question to you was: How do you see the relations between the regions in Spain and the Spanish state in the framework of the EU?

    The Autonomous Communities and the Autonomous Cities of Spain count on a wide variety of institutional solutions, such as the Conference of Presidents, together with the Conference for Matters related to the European Communities. They serve as a valuable platform to coordinate and represent the interests of the regions at the EU level.

    Likewise, the Committee of the Regions provides for a framework within which local and regional authorities can make their voices heard at the European level. In this sense, the relations are dynamic and can be incremented anytime there is a special issue or concern on either side.

    What was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    Some think MEPs are always flying first class, with the most renowned airlines. Well, I am an MEP and I can tell you that, 90% of the time, we fly economy class or use low-cost companies.

    What is your strategy to improve the way in which the EU is being communicated?

    The European Parliament efforts towards engaging millennials through apps such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook are indeed remarkable.

    However, many citizens still use printed media, radio and the vast majority still gets its information from the television, so we have to make sure that we keep providing both with the sufficient high-quality content. We have to focus on translation: not all citizens speak English or French, and therefore more effort should be put on making information available for them in their own language.

    Simultaneously, in times when fake news are the new propaganda technique, the EU should not just focus on unmasking the so-called “alternative facts” but also on offering a resilient counter-narrative. We have a myriad of good stories to tell, of success examples to share. So let’s all tell them, let’s all share them!  

    What was the last book you borrowed from the Parliament’s library?

    It was Resolving Cyprus: New Approaches to Conflict Resolution. I borrowed it in December and I have already renewed it twice. Achieving a comprehensible solution for the Cyprus issue would benefit not just the population of the entire island, but also the EU as a whole. It is something we all need.

    Tell us a not-that-good movie that is a “guilty pleasure” for you. 

    A Man for All Seasons is definitely my favourite movie. But I would like to draw the attention to the films of “Paco” Martínez Soria, as they are emblematic of post-war Spanish cinema.

    I am referring to the genre of the 50s, 60s and 70s that was endearing, warm, considerate, homey. These movies never won Oscars, but have always accompanied us, Spaniards, in our path to reconciliation, peace, democracy and prosperity.

    What was your first job?

    At the young age of 20, when I was still in university, I opened my own art gallery in my hometown, Murcia. I did not have money, but I was lucky enough to share a passion for art (I’m an Art History graduate) with a friend who did. He put the money and I put the knowledge. Our gallery, which we called ‘Mica’, eventually became one of the most prestigious in the region.

    Which should be, in your opinion, the main targeted areas in which the European Structural and Investment Fund should create jobs and growth?

    At the core of this policy are the Smart Specialisation Strategies. By fine-tuning our regions’ specialisation priorities –encouraging local, regional and national authorities to pursue evidence-based policy strategies- we improve the efficiency of the way in which public money is spent.

    If I had to pick two flagships for job creation, I would go for SMEs and youth. As well as boosting our SMEs’ competitiveness, effectively responding to the high levels of youth unemployment in Member States is vital to enhance a sustainable and inclusive model of growth.

    If you would need to participate in a karaoke contest which song would you sing? Which MEP would you pick for a duet?

    Singing is not my strongest point. But if I had to pick someone to sing with, that person would definitely be my colleague Carlos Iturgaiz. He is a real music master. And we would go for something from It’s happening! featuring Diana Ross and Neil Diamond.

    Why should defence research be a strategic priority for the Union, in your opinion?

    In a world constantly evolving, where change comes rapidly and in which uncertainty is now a commonplace, advancing in research and technology in all areas but especially in Defence and Security is of vital importance for the EU to remain autonomous, to maintain independence from third actors. Strategically speaking, research should be a priority in all areas but especially within the EU’s defence package.

    What is your life moto?

    Call it a life moto, call it a way to face life on a daily basis. When someone asks me how I am, I always respond: “I’m good, and feeling signs of improvement”. Looking at the bright side of life has always worked out to be the best possible approach.

    How did you manage to make it on the Kremlin’s blacklist?

    The reason for me being (still) on Putin’s blacklist is pretty simple: standing with the people of Ukraine and not with those who were giving orders to kill them. In 2014, at the beginning of the Euromaidan movement, I travelled to Kyiv in my role of President of the Committee of the Regions, the post that I held at that time. The official programme of my visit included a meeting with government representatives, but the dramatic events that happened at the Maidan while I was there changed the course of things.

    What should the EU’s strategy in tackling the situation in Eastern Ukraine be?

    The European Union is with the people of Ukraine. It is at their side. And it remains committed to trying to make sure that the conditions in the country improve. The EU has repeatedly called for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements in order to provide for a real beginning of the peace process.

    The role of the EU is to actively engage in supporting and assisting Ukraine in its remarkable reform effort, while trying to achieve a better security situation for its people, especially in the East.

    Sailing or cycling?

    Sailing. Just for the sake of feeling as free as a drop in the ocean.

    Gazpacho or Paella?

    I could not possibly choose one. It would be like asking a parent to choose his favourite child. So I would say gazpacho for starters and paella as main course.

    Analogue or digital camera?

    As a photography lover, I go with both and decide on the spot depending on the situation. Analogue works better for portraits, probably. But when it comes to editing, digital photography is a must.

    Which EPP Group colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?

    Eva Paunova. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her recent marriage. And second, I would like to ask her how she thinks the EU could better contribute to equipping our youngsters with the digital skills needed to thrive in the digital context. 

    EU Institutions European People's Party Leadership Regionalisation

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with EP Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel

    I Say Europe

    23 Mar 2017

  • There has never been a shortage of thinking about the future of Europe. Last week, the Commission presented its five scenarios. Which is timely, because things are not working as they are. And which could be a distraction for the same reason: from the Commission one would expect to be strong on execution rather than on thinking about the future. Nevertheless, ideas are valuable.

    While the scenarios present a complete palette of organisational options for the EU, they are shallow in explaining why do we want the EU in the first place. What is its raison d’etre? This is what the proposed sixth scenario is about. But first let us have a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the original five.

    1 – The project goes on

    In the first scenario, the EU continues to implement reforms as planned. This “business as usual” scenario is useful because it reveals what the authors understand as problems. The two problems are that the decision-making process is slow, inefficient and complex; and that the EU institutions are not meeting the citizen’s expectations.

    To put it shortly, Brussels has no power to meet the expectations of citizens. This is the problem that the other scenarios are supposed to address. And what these scenarios propose, in fact, is either lowering the expectations or increasing the powers of Brussels.

    2 – Less Europe

    The second scenario assumes that the EU – unable to agree on anything else – is reduced just to a common market. It is unclear if this means abandoning the common currency. In principle, the common market is not so little if it functions properly. Hayek explained that a common market is a sufficient basis for a working interstate federation. It preserves peace, which is touted as the main achievement of the EU, and prevents government meddling with the economy.

    In the scheme of the five scenarios, this one has a role of the “bad one”. The writers assume that in order to be competitive in the common market, the member states would “race to the bottom” in the absence of common consumer, environmental, social and tax standards.

    This strawman should be approached with caution. Unless the EU does not ensure global standards for consumer protection, environment, social assistance etc. it would as a whole be a victim of a global “race to the bottom”. The solution would assume joining Mr. Donald Trump in limiting the freedom of world trade.

    3 – More Europe for some members

    The third scenario – multiple speed Europe – acknowledges that some member states may be interested in doing more together. While there may be many new interesting topics of collaboration, one is present as the elephant in the room already: the monetary union.

    A closer cooperation in the Eurozone is not an option but a necessity. The moment of truth for such a closer cooperation comes when German taxpayers would need to pay, for example, the Greek education system. Which, of course, means that the Germans can have a say in how many teachers you need on a small Greek island with two kids.

    This brings us to the core problem of all variants of “more Europe” scenarios: lack of European identity. If anything should be learned from Trump, Brexit and the raise of populism in Europe is that identity matters.

    Without people belonging to Europe almost all scenarios are doomed.

    West Germans were somehow willing to pay for East German social services. Not because Germany is a democracy and a democratically elected parliament passed a budget that said so. But because East- and West- Germans are one people. They are all Germans. They share history, culture, religion and language. They share identity. They are one demos. And you need a demos for a democracy. You can have a union without a demos, but without democracy. Like the USSR or Yugoslavia.

    The European democratic deficit, seen so often as a key European problem, has its root in the European demos deficit. The level of political integration that can be achieved formally is limited by the level of common European identity that is achieved among Europeans intuitively.

    4 – More Europe but on fewer topics

    This means the EU would need to concentrate on a few important tasks, but those performing well. Hard to find anything wrong with doing good the important stuff. The devil is in the details and the details are on which topics the EU would do more and on which less.

    5 – More Europe on all topics

    Member states should transfer more power to Brussels and establish common policies for several areas. This is essentially the Verhofstadt scenario and in line with the proposed new European Constitution of the Ljubljana Initiative. The “United States of Europe” scenario has all the problems of the Euro Area of Scenario 3, only worse, because there are more member states involved.

    All scenarios above are making one wrong assumption: that the division of power between member states and the union is a rational, technocratic decision to be taken by political elites while pretending to be debating it with “the citizens” on the internet.

    6th Scenario – More Europeanism

    Democracy needs an identity foundation that binds individuals into the demos. The binding can be a language, a religion, a culture, a race, or a belief in a credo. Europe does not have that. The proof? If something like that existed it could have been exploited by the populists just like the French, American, German, Dutch populists are exploiting the French, American, German, Dutch identities. There are no successful pro-European populists!

    The local and particular cannot be based on the general and universal. Local and particular is every state-like entity. Universal concepts of liberal democracy such as human rights, the rule of law and democracy are not a sufficient basis for local communities. There has to be something more in addition to the universal. Huntington explains this in his book Who Are We?

    Europe can be saved. But it will take more than technocratic options on how organise relations between Brussels and the member states. The sixth scenario is a scenario of a passionate Europeanism.

    We Europeans!

    Europe lacks a statesman whose platform would be “I am a European”; one who would sell to Europeans the dream of making Europe – not great again – just making Europe. Who could say what great things “we Europeans could do if we stood together”. And say it to the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Slovenians and so on. It seems the founding fathers in the 1950s were able to do so but then this art was lost.

    She should sell the idea to the intellectuals that European nations working together is the only way to preserve the European civilization, its culture, its values, its institutions, its creed and its religion. That the reason for existence of the European Union is no more no less than to provide an institutional backbone of European civilization.

    And he should sell the idea to everyone that only together can Europeans face the threats from the south and from the east; that the battles of Tours and Vienna were fought and won by Europeans who spoke different languages! If dormant feelings of belonging to a group are to be awakened, let people belong as Europeans too, not just as Germans, French, Dutch..

    Europe lacks a statesman […] who would sell to Europeans the dream of making Europe – not great again – just making Europe.

    It would take too long to forge this sense of belonging by Interrail tickers, Erasmus exchanges and mobile phone roaming. These are all nice to have but, seriously, train tickets cannot be the foundation of a political union. But an idea can be! An idea of proud Europeanism that is adopted by leaders and communicated with a loud and clear voice, that is. Perhaps communicated to the voters at the next European parliamentary elections!

    The division of power between the member states and the union will then depend on how strong is the sense of belonging to the union via-a-vis belonging to the member states. This will determine which options from the menu of the five scenarios above are realistic and which ones are not; and where the Union could and should do more and where not.

    Without people belonging to Europe almost all scenarios are doomed.

    This op-ed orginally appeared in New Europe
    Žiga Turk EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism Values

    Žiga Turk

    The sixth scenario and Juncker’s white paper


    08 Mar 2017

  • The result of the UK’s EU referendum has provided impetus for European political parties to rethink their communication strategies.

    The referendum result came as a shock here in Brussels because many of us in the Remain camp probably couldn’t name a single individual who would have voted for Leave. By the same logic, there are likely communities in England I could visit to become the only Remainer in the village.

    Once upon a time, in the days before Facebook, we revelled in finding like-minded souls.

    It was the British novelist CS Lewis who quipped that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”. Today, however, it has never been easier to connect with people with whom you share common ground.

    In the internet age, we are surrounded by like-minded people. We tweet into echo-chambers, we take selfies to ‘get likes’ or we delete the posts if we don’t. We’re increasingly surrounded by Yes Men and Women and we’re unconsciously isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.

    As we reverberate in the Brexit aftershock, when we find ourselves asking ‘how did this happen?’ or ‘who voted to Leave?’ it is my opinion that we actually need to ask ourselves why didn’t we see this coming?

    Enabled by over-sharing, algorithms and trending topics, the echo-chamber as a concept is flourishing.

    To sum it up, it involves like-minded people sharing like-minded views and circulating contentedly and uninterrupted in like-minded circles. Whether espousing moderate centre-right values or advocating for attributes found elsewhere on the political spectrum, as we scroll through our social media feeds, in search of ‘likes’ or distributing themwe find ourselves increasingly unable to distinguish like from maybe too alike.

    The UK referendum, in this regard, is a wake-up call. Populist ideas must be addressed and this has to be done not with a giant POPULIST rubber stamp aimed at silencing the conversation, but by listening to the concerns of voters and effectively communicating the positive value of the European project.

    By virtue of the very nature of our echo-chambered existence, most of the people reading this blog will probably agree with me. That’s all well and good but ultimately we should seek to employ the echo-chamber to our advantage. There are two things we need to do. The first is instrumental in achieving the second. We need to utilise the circular nature of the echo-chamber in which we revolve to remind ourselves of the following message;

    The European construction is exactly that, a construct, and it is ours to build. The remaining 27 member states, their political parties, and our political family in particular, are under no obligation to subscribe to the British motto of Keep Calm and Carry On and to shrug our shoulders in the difficult discussions which will soon take place on the future of Europe and the need for reform. We do not need to ‘take back control’ because we already wield it but we do need to utilise it to strive for the Better Europe called for by Commission President Juncker.

    Once we have realised this, and structured our vision for an EU of 27, we need to break the sound barrier and defy the limits of the echo-chamber. This will involve sensible, sensitive discussion and debate. It is the role of everyone from think-tanks and political parties to ordinary citizens to recognise that we do not exist in a vacuum and that the opinions and ideas of others are to be listened to with respect because they serve to better inform us about Europe and our world.

    At the individual level, it is easy to break out of the echo-chamber. You can follow those whom you sometimes disagree with on Twitter or pick-up a newspaper different to your regular Sunday read. For political parties and think-tanks, it’s slightly more nuanced. A balance has to be found in order to avoid preaching, propaganda, or worse again, spam.

    Communication strategies have to be clever, they need to adapt to new media, embracing visuals, videos and Vines. There’s nothing to say a political party can’t SnapChat or Boomerang either. Aside from adding madness to the method, it is content that remains key. Twitter has grown its empire on the intrinsically human art of storytelling. Today more than ever people are hungry for narratives. Political think-tanks can offer genuine, credible narratives – not only about how we would like our world to be, but also about how it can be achieved. Reaching out to citizens beyond traditional circles can help to create a healthy diversity of narratives on the future of Europe.

    The European project has suffered from preaching to the converted for a little too long. Looking forward, the only ‘–exit’ on the horizon should be from the problematic depths of the politically divided echo-chambers. It is imperative that we create one inclusive conversation on the EU, unless we wish to succumb to the same fate of self-interest and repetitiveness that ultimately saw the end of Narcissus, and his estranged lover, Echo.

    Erica Lee Brexit Democracy Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union

    Erica Lee

    The Brexit Echo: how to break the “echo-chamber” effect in political communication


    06 Jul 2016

  • Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the first step has to be taken by the UK Government. It must decide what sort of relationship it wants to have, trade wise, with the rest of the world. At the moment, that is governed by agreements negotiated for the UK by the EU.

    If the UK simply leaves the EU, all those agreements will fall, as does UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Agreements with dozens of non EU countries will have to be negotiated again, at the same time as negotiating  with the EU. A lot of work.

    Basically the UK government will have to choose between three options: 

    1. Leave the EU and, like Norway, apply to join the European Economic Area (EEA)
    2. Negotiate a new special trade agreement, like the agreement Canada or Switzerland have with the EU
    3. Leave the EU without any trade agreement and apply, as a separate country, to join the WTO

    The EEA option

    The EEA option could be put in place quickly and would not disrupt trade all that much. The EEA is a readymade model for external association by a non member with the EU. It could be taken down from the shelf, so to speak.  But, as an EEA member, the UK would still have to implement EU regulations and contribute to the EU budget. It would not allow curbs on EU immigration. The EEA option has been dismissed by “Leave“ campaigners, but it does involve leaving the EU, and complies  with the literal terms of the  referendum decision.

    If the UK experiences severe balance of payments problems over the summer, the EEA option may become attractive. The UK already has a big balance of payments deficit anyway and capital inflows may be inhibited by the Leave vote. The EEA option would buy time, and would not preclude leaving altogether eventually.

    The trade agreement option

    The second option, a special trade deal, would be much more difficult. It would require a detailed negotiation on every type of product or service sale between the UK and the 27 member countries of the EU, including across our border.

    Such an agreement would take years to negotiate (probably 7 or 8 years), because it would be subject to domestic political constraints, and political blackmail attempts, in all EU countries, each of whom would have to ratify it. If it proposed curbs on immigration from the EU, the EU countries affected  would make difficulties with other aspects of the deal, as a bargaining counter.

    It is unlikely that a Trade Agreement would allow the UK to sell financial services into the EU. Indeed it would be in the interest of EU countries, that might hope to attract financial services, to make sure the UK got few concessions .

    Leave without any deal

    The third option, leaving the EU with no agreement, could come about, either because that was what the UK chose, or because the negotiations on a special trade deal broke down or were not ratified by one or two EU states. It would require the application of the EU common external tariff to UK or Northern Irish products crossing the border into the Republic.

    Average EU tariffs are around 4%, but on agricultural goods the mean tariff is 18%. The imposition of these tariffs is a key part of the Common Agricultural Policy, which protects the incomes of EU farmers. We would have no option but collect them at customs posts along our border. All forms of food manufacture and distribution within the two islands would be disrupted.

    The disruption of the complex supply chain of the modern food industry would be dramatic and the knock on effects impossible to calculate. A similar effect might be felt by the car parts industry, which is subject to tariffs, and is important to some parts of England.

    The EU response: more EU democracy

    Meanwhile the remaining 27 countries of the EU, and the EU institutions, will have a lot of thinking to do too. They need to respond decisivly to the (false) claim that the EU is not democratic.

    All EU legislation has to be passed by a democratically elected European Parliament, and also by a Council of Ministers who represent the democratically elected governments of the 28 EU countries. The members of the European Commission must be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament.

    But there is room to further improve  EU democracy. I would make two suggestions: 

    1. The President of the European Commission should be directly elected by the people of the EU in a two round election, at the same time as the European Parliament Elections every 5 years
    2. To create a closer link between national parliaments and the EU, a minimum of nine national parliaments agreeing should be sufficient to require the Commission to put forward a proposal on a topic allowed by the EU Treaties. National Parliaments can already delay EU legislation, so they should be free to make positive proposals too. This would give them an active interest in the potential of EU action to improve lives.

    Stop pretending the EU can do the job of member states

    That said, the EU should avoid over promising, and should not allow itself to be blamed for all the problems people face in their daily lives. The EU is not an all powerful monolith that can solve the problems caused by technological change and globalisation. It is just a loose voluntary confederation of 28 countries, with no tax raising powers of its own. Nor is the EU responsible for debts mistakenly taken on by its members.

    If the losers of globalisation and technological change are to be sheltered from misfortune, it is the 27 states, not the EU itself, that have the taxing power to redistribute money and opportunities from the winners of globalisation to the losers.  If member states fail to do so, that is their responsibility, not that of the EU.

    The UK has not been particularly generous in this regard. Its welfare system is modest, and its investment in productivity improvement has been poor. In some respects, UK voters  have just mistakenly blamed  the EU. for the effects of the  omissions, and under performance, of successive UK governments.

    The difference between the two Unions exposed

    The fact that English votes could take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the EU, against their will, highlights the different natures of  the UK and European Unions. In the EU Union, each nation has a veto on major constitutional changes. In the UK Union, they do not.

    John Bruton Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism

    John Bruton

    Now what? Post-Brexit trade scenarios for the UK


    27 Jun 2016

  • This will look like the wrong moment to say anything positive. And indeed, yesterday was a sad day for Europe. In our eyes, and those of its own young, Cool Britannia has turned into Little England. 24 June, 2016, will be economically painful for all sides concerned, it throws British politics into turmoil, even endangers the coherence of the United Kingdom, emboldens nationalists across the continent, weakens the West and makes Putin a happy man. And yet, while panic will only make matters worse, some aspects of Britain’s momentous decision are more disastrous than others. Starting with the economy, Britain will go through a rough period of a much weaker Pound, and investors withdrawing or at least thinking twice before putting their money into Britain. In the Brexit negotiations, Britain will try to preserve as much free trade as possible while not having to adapt to all the regulation it now cannot influence anymore. So the job for the EU’s negotiators will be to not ‘punish’ Britain (and shoot ourselves in the foot by inhibiting trade) while still preventing the impression that countries can get away with leaving and then retaining better deals than member states. Both large UK parties have been damaged because their leaderships argued for remain while the majority of their voters opted for leave. Expect turbulence in British domestic politics for some time to come. And although a second Scottish referendum will not follow as automatically as Scottish nationalists like to pretend (Parliament has to approve), both the Scottish and the Irish questions will return with a vengeance. But one of the most appalling aspects is that the anti-EU vote was also an anti-establishment, anti-market, anti-globalisation and anti-politics vote. The Leave propaganda was a far cry from good old Thatcherite Euroscepticism. In a way, England has moved from ‘I want my money back!’ to ‘I want my country back!’ –when no one from Brussels was actually trying to steal it. In fact, as reliable analyses are showing, Leave was mainly about ‘independence’ and ‘immigration’ – i.e. freeing Britain from Brussels-imposed slavery and migrants. Moreover, the Leave campaign’s allegations about a pro-remain conspiracy of the rich against the ‘little people’ were quite telling. But that tendency reflects a global trend that will only subside when its proponents are confronted with the harsh choices of actually governing. Britain over the coming months and years may become an excellent – and deterrent – example. In the remaining 27 member states, populist and nationalist parties are already calling for exit referenda. Even if leave majorities may be harder to achieve there, populists will use the polarisation in order to promote their parties and movements. But all that should not distract us from the most important task for the near future: Demonstrate that ‘more Europe’ in every field is a thing of the past. A stronger Union in foreign and domestic security will, of course, be necessary. But the governments of the Founding Six can meet for another 10 dinners, and I still don’t see ‘Core Europe’emerging if it presupposes a European finance minister (only over France’s dead body) or a transfer union (which no German party except the Greens will want to defend in their own country). So let’s get serious about making the Single Market more performant and less regulated, for example through more mutual recognition instead of unlimited harmonisation. Let’s handle Schengen flexibly in the face of jihadist terrorism. And let’s increase NATO-EU cooperation so that the laughter fromthe Kremlin is a bit less raucous. These are hard times for European integration. But if nothing else, what we should keep after Britain leaves, is a stiff upper lip.

    Roland Freudenstein EU Institutions EU Member States European Union

    Roland Freudenstein

    Keep calm and work for a better Europe


    25 Jun 2016


    The fact that the British voters are free to have a referendum, and free to decide to leave the European Union shows that the European Union is a voluntary Union.

     It is not an Empire, which something a country would not be free to leave.

     Nor is it a Federal Union like the United States, which does not permit its member states to leave either.

    The EU’s voluntary character is one of the reasons why a number of states are still looking to join the EU.


    The 23rd of June 2016 will, however, be the first time in the EU’s 60 year history, that any state has contemplated leaving.

     This is a serious matter not just for Britain, but for all the countries of the EU.

     So British voters,  acting as a citizen legislators on 23 June, ought to think of the risks, that a British decision to leave might create for neighbouring countries in the EU, like Ireland. Voters here in Lancashire need to think about the consequences for peace in Ireland of the deepening of the border in Ireland that would flow from a Brexit decision on 23 June. 

    They also should consider the risk that Britain deciding to leave would create a precedent that would weaken the bonds that hold the remaining 27 countries together.  The Parliament in Westminster has passed to voters the responsibility for deciding if a possible breakup of the EU would really be good for Britain, and for Europe too. It is a big responsibility.


    Stability in Europe has been a long term British goal.

    Edmund Burke in the 1790’s favoured a Commonwealth of Europe.

     Castlereagh worked for a Concert of Europe, with regular Summit meetings like the EU now has, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

     Winston Churchill, in 1930,advocated  a United States of Europe.  

    These statesmen did not advocate these ideas out of some sort of dewy eyed sentimentalism. No, they had a hard headed appreciation of the fact that stability on the continent meant greater security for Britain, and they made their suggestions to achieve that end.

     Now it is British voters, not British statesmen, who must decide what is best for Europe,

    +  a Union with Britain on the inside, or

    + a fractured Union, which Britain has left of its own free will.


    We hear much about EU Regulations and the burdens they impose. But even if Britain left the EU, it would still have regulations of its own on things like the environment, financial services and product safety.

     In fact, to the extent that  a Britain that had left the EU wanted to sell  goods or services to Europe, it would have to comply with TWO sets of regulations,

    +  British regulations for the British market, and

    + EU regulations for the EU market, including Ireland.

    Arguably the duplicated post Brexit regulatory burden on  British business would be greater than the present one.


    Some believe that the UK could leave the EU, and then quickly negotiate a free trade agreement which would allow British firms to go on selling in Ireland and the other EU countries.

     I am sure an agreement of some kind could eventually be worked out, but it would not be quick.

     Switzerland negotiated trade agreements with the EU, but that took 9 years.

     Canada negotiated a Free Trade agreement too, but that took 7 years.

    The British Agreement would be much more complicated than either of these, because it would  involve new issues like  financial services, and  freedom of movement ,and access to health services, for example for Britons in Spain. It would have to cover agriculture.

    Even with maximum goodwill from the European Commission, a post Brexit EU trade agreement with Britain would become prey to the domestic politics of the 27 remaining EU countries, each of whom would have their own axes to grind.

     There would be a lot of uncertainty, over a long period.


    I believe British people should accept that entities like the EU, which provide a structure, within which the forces of globalisation, can be governed politically are essential, if the prosperity that flows from globalisation is to be shared fairly.

     Rather than leave, Britons should consider how they can make the EU better than it is, and there is plenty of scope for that.

    [Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach of Ireland, in Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe in Lancashire on Sunday 29 May]

    John Bruton EU Institutions European Union

    John Bruton

    Why I believe the UK should stay in the EU


    02 Jun 2016

  • This article examines why the EU should finance defence research. The answers are found in the role the EU increasingly plays in guaranteeing its own security and providing security in Europe’s neighbourhood.

    Against this backdrop, and to compensate for the steady decline in defence research and technology investment, in 2013 the European Commission suggested undertaking preparatory action in this field. This initiative has received support from the European Council and the European Parliament on several occasions.

    The Parliament put itself in the driving seat for establishing a pilot project in the fiscal year 2015. All the ongoing efforts serve the purpose of establishing a fully fledged European Defence Research Programme starting in 2021. This programme could have the added value of catalysing future cooperative defence programmes, thus delivering urgently needed capabilities for European armed forces.

    Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Michael Gahler Defence EU Institutions Security

    Michael Gahler

    The added value of EU defence research


    12 May 2016

  • Ex-post investigations of major terrorist attacks in Europe have highlighted the contradiction between the seemingly free movement of terrorists across Europe and the lack of EU-wide intelligence sharing.

    In response, EU policymakers have repeatedly promised to improve intelligence sharing across Europe, and some have even floated the idea that Europol should be turned into a centralised EU criminal intelligence hub, akin to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    In this article, I argue that despite the clear need for borderless intelligence sharing as a response to borderless terrorism, Europol is highly unlikely to become a genuine intelligence agency in the foreseeable future.

    Experience to date with Europol suggests that it is one thing for Europe’s policymakers to make public promises to improve the fight against terrorism via better intelligence sharing across Europe, and quite another thing for them to persuade the relevant national agencies to comply.

    Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Oldrich Bureš EU Institutions EU Member States Security

    Oldrich Bureš

    Intelligence sharing and the fight against terrorism in the EU: lessons learned from Europol


    12 May 2016

  • The discussion about strengthening the European economy is very timely. Although the EU is facing urgent challenges now, we have to learn to tackle more than one crisis at a time. We still need to make efforts to improve the competitiveness and thus resilience of our economy when facing shocks, I have asserted today in the debate “Do or Die: Political and Economic Reforms for a Stronger EU”, organized within NET@WORK Forum of the Martens Centre. The completion and strengthening of the Economic and Monetary Union is essential to ensure the stability of our common currency. In order to strengthen our economies, we have to tackle the root causes of the current crisis: Too much debt and too little competitiveness. It is necessary that the banking system returns to its mission of supporting the real economy, like financing entrepreneurship and SMEs. Progress has been made regarding the governance of the Eurozone, where the ECB monetary policy has been constructive. However, this help is limited and can only function as a bridge. There is no way around improving competitiveness through economic and political reforms, and I believe an appropriate tool for this can be a fiscal capacity of the Eurozone. The capacity should incentivize reforms especially in good economic times, when it makes sense to implement them, such as reforms already laid down in the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs). An evaluation of the CSRs implementation rate could steer us towards reforms whose transposition require financial incentives through the fiscal capacity. What kind of reforms do we need to make our economies more competitive? On the one hand, we have to reduce deficits and limit public debt, return banks to their initial function, allocate more financing to research and innovation, further invest in roads and railway infrastructure as well as improving energy and digital markets. On the other hand, we need to reform labour markets to be more flexible in order to offer more opportunities to young people. We have to support entrepreneurship, start-ups and SMEs, further develop the single market, provide predictable and reliable tax and legal systems as well as insuring the functionality of the rule of law. In addition, there is need to reform the budgets. The limited financial resources we have at public level should be allocated to those areas which strengthen our economies. The budget should be a reflection of our political priorities. Moreover, we must invest in education. Schools and universities have to prepare the students with the necessary skills to be successful in the labour markets of the future. Many jobs of the future will require new skills, such as digital and e-skills. Furthermore, the development of the governance of the Eurozone is necessary, but more important is the impact on the real lives of the citizens. We have to show how our actions in Brussels really help the economy, and more specifically, how they benefit entrepreneurs and SMEs. European citizens are rightly interested in the final results. As pro-Europeans we have to talk about the achievements of European integration and present the EU as something which is still responding to the present and future needs of the citizens. In the past, the most urgent need was peace. Today, the challenges of the future are manifold, including the refugee crisis, increasing Euro scepticism and international conflicts. If the European idea is challenged and questioned by populists, it is our obligation, besides defending the European idea, to improve and further develop it. [originally published in Siegfried Muresan’s blog]

    Siegfried Mureşan Economy Education EU Institutions European People's Party Innovation

    Siegfried Mureşan

    Do or Die: Political and Economic Reforms for a Stronger EU


    20 Apr 2016

  • Regrettably, the concept of the European Union, its construction, way of working and fundamental values find themselves in grave crisis.

    Many factors, of varying intensities, have contributed to this problem. First and foremost: three consecutive crises have befallen the EU in recent years. The financial crisis, the sovereign debt crisis, and now the immigration crisis – they all have taken a heavy toll. In the public conscience, the EU has become a symbol of Western failure. It is frequently perceived as assuming responsibility for the economic pain imposed upon ordinary citizens. In many member states, especially in the South, “austerity” is now the Union’s middle name. The unprecedented (and uncontrolled) influx of immigrants and refugees from Syria, North Africa, Iraq and some Asian countries polarised public opinion and unearthed a sort of emotion and prejudice we had not witnessed for many years. Again, the EU is largely blamed for the mess.

    The EU does not provide health services, pensions nor education. In quiet times, that makes it less relevant in the eyes of an average citizen. But in times of crisis, a perverse process occurs in many member states in which budget cuts and decreased funding for public services and the welfare state are immediately attributed to the EU. The Union’s relevance grows, but unfortunately in a negative way.

    The EU seems distant, disconnected from ordinary citizens. Its very construction separates it from the people. From the very outset the EU was elitist and based on a wise but hardly comprehensible set of norms. Its founding fathers, like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, wouldn’t have even thought of the necessity for “connecting with voters” when they sketched their first declarations. Nor could they have imagined that one day the whole concept would necessitate explanation in 140 characters (or less!) on Twitter.

    The Eurozone crisis further deepened the impression that the whole system is undemocratic. Crucial decisions (that saved the Eurozone from collapsing) were taken in the shadowy cabinets of the Justus Lipsius building. Or in the ECB governing board meeting room.

    The holy trio of old arguments explaining the Union’s raison d’etre, namely “peace”, “stability”, “prosperity”, is no longer valid. These values, dear to our grandfathers (and maybe inhabitants of Balkan region) are taken for granted in most European countries. How often do we think of the air we breathe? The same goes for the EU. Add to the pot the lost credibility of many national elites – and a recipe for disaster is ready.[1]

    European institutions, willing governments and pro-European parties, and above all business entities that profit from the single market, must react.

    Many parallel efforts must be made to address the challenge. Firstly, the EU should defend itself by delivering. The EU should offer new solutions that feel relevant to citizens.  If it is to redeem itself by concrete action and performance, then creating the social security pillar of the EU should be considered as the priority.

    At the same time, the EU should urgently change the way it communicates and markets itself. It is essential that EU citizens rediscover the already offered “added value” of European Union membership.

    The EU mechanisms are complex. So are insurance and investment banking products, but it does not stop companies from advertising them. The trick is to simplify the message and multiply it massively. Companies do not try to explain how their products and services are prepared, instead they focus on what is important and tell people how much would they profit from using them.

    It is high time that the EU follow the business experience. It is not doing this right now. The EU must start telling people – like companies do – what it is delivering to them, directly or indirectly. There are easy to grasp benefits the EU could (and should) boast about such as the possibility to live, study and/or work in another EU country, the reduction of roaming charges, the Erasmus programme, cheaper flights, and improved consumer rights (especially in the online shopping business). Above all, the EU must communicate straightforwardly that it is creating – through the single market, free flow of capital and workers – hundreds of thousands jobs across the continent. Should the EU disappear, those jobs are gone too. This could be sold in a thirty second TV advertisement. Businesses can do, and do, exactly that: persuading us in thirty seconds how miserable our life would be, should we not buy the latest “Gizmo Pro 7”. The EU need not try to reinvent the wheel. It ought embrace the proven techniques, which are already successfully employed by business strategists.

    This idea is serious. Heather Grabbe and Stefan Lehne pointed out the lack of discussion on the enormous costs to citizens of rolling back the single market, reintroducing border controls or reversing trade liberalisation.[2] The European institutions and pro-European politicians seem to be failing in getting the message across. TV debates, lengthy interviews, press conferences, open doors – let’s not fool ourselves, it simply is not working.

    To some in the Brussels-bubble this may sound like blasphemy, but the EU should not be shy in resorting to massive and emotionally-intelligent advertising. Right now there’s no counterbalance to bad news (often untrue) aired and published by tabloid media outlets on a daily basis. There’s no counterbalance to all sorts of lies and downright propaganda, thrown at the EU by its enemies. They don’t hesitate, they use every possible mean of attack.

    It’s time the European institutions and stakeholders start to communicate like the most successful global companies do. Who should pay for it? The European Commission, the Parliament, the Council and the European political parties (while cutting expenses in other areas of communication) but also companies that profit from European integration.

    Advertising is not a silver bullet. It can’t replace improved EU performance in fields that matter to ordinary citizens. The problem is we also need short-term solutions to stop people turning away from the EU. That’s a job for advertising. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. But there is responsibility to shine a light on the EU’s many positive attributes.

    [1] M. Leonard et al., European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2016, ECFR, London 2016, 15

    [2] H.Grabbe, S. Lehne, Emotional Intelligence for the EU Democracy, Carnegie Europe 2015

    Konrad Niklewicz EU Institutions European Union Values

    Konrad Niklewicz

    The EU is a superb product. Time to advertise it seriously


    17 Mar 2016

  • Let’s be clear: This is not about ‘punishing Poland’. This is about proving that we are a Union built on values, that among those is liberal democracy (based on separation of powers, checks and balances and iron-clad guarantees for minorities), and that no member state government, however democratically elected, can flout its basic principles. And it is about reaching out to the many Poles who actually like the EU and are now worried about their country’s role in it.

    Poland’s new government is losing no time: In its first couple of weeks, it has brought the intelligence services under the control of a politician earlier convicted for abuse of power, severely weakened the Constitutional Court (declaring it a politically biased institution) and undertaken rather strange shenanigans against a Polish-Slovak NATO Centre for Counterintelligence. Now it is about to bring public radio and television under the direct control of the government.

    Next may be the Public Prosecutor and the rest of the judiciary, and then the Constitution itself. Law and Justice (PiS) is legitimising these steps by two main arguments: That all of this is necessary to ‘cure Poland of some illnesses’ and that the predecessor government by the Civic Platform (PO) did the same.  And protests from Brussels meet with indignation in Warsaw, and when they are made by Germans, with open historical resentment.

    Let’s tackle these arguments and then ask what precisely the EU institutions and Poland’s partners should do now. As to the Constitutional Court’s fifteen judges, it is true that PO had nominated two too many in summer (when the risk of losing the elections was already clear), but when the Court declared PO’s move unconstitutional, PO took the blame and apologised.

    Over the past eight years, the Court had annulled several of PO’s legislative projects. PiS’ actions, however, are of a completely different magnitude, such as: Having the PiS-supported President refuse to swear in any of the five, then nominating its own five judges overruling the Court’s protest, and finally the law severely hampering the Court (f.e. introducing a two thirds majority). When a right wing MP declared: ‘The interests of the people are above the law. When the law doesn’t serve the people, it becomes injustice!’ he received standing ovations from PiS – and summed up an ideology which rings ominously familiar to anyone who remembers Communist rhetoric before 1989.

    The attack against the NATO facility may be just a bizarre episode but it has already enraged the Slovak government. Nothing of the sort ever happened under PO. But more importantly, the media law goes far beyond anything PO did. Four major international journalists’ associations[1] have already officially complained to the Council of Europe. The OSCE sees the ‘independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters’ in danger. Surely, in Central Europe in general, parties winning elections often put their people in high positions in media and administration. The PO majority in Polish media supervisory bodies also gradually put people friendlier to the government into key posts. But it left a larger margin for pluralism: 3 months after the 2007 elections, a PiS-appointed functionary was still at the helm of public TV. And PO never thought about passing a law that would put the government directly in charge of media personnel decisions.

    Hence, for all its sins in terms of arrogance and sloppiness, PO tried to follow the path of liberal democracy, navigating most of the time through the fallout of the global crisis. More importantly, it immensely increased Poland’s standing and influence in Europe. PiS, however, is making no false pretence: it wants the illiberal detour. Jarosław Kaczyński might be a very intelligent and well-educated leader, some even say: an erudite – but he’s no friend of Montesquieu’s trias politicaToutes proportions gardées, he’s more into Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’. And we all remember: That old Italian recipe had a lot of ingredients, but checks and balances were not among them.

    Let’s spell it out: what PiS is doing, comes dangerously close to violating the Copenhagen criteria which are conditions for membership, which Poland signed up to and which clearly postulate the rule of law with stable institutions, minority rights etc. When Viktor Orbán’s government in 2010/11 made moves that were not in accordance with media freedom and an independent judiciary, the Commission raised its voice, and some laws were altered. At the very least, one should expect the same now. Consequently, Commission Vice President Timmermans[2] sent two requests for clarification to Warsaw.

    The Commission is discussing PiS’ moves on 13 January, and the European Parliament on 19 January. There is talk about starting the Rule of Law mechanism created in 2014 which might, theoretically and after many intermediate steps, lead to a Council procedure to curb a member state’s rights, including voting rights, according to Article 7 of the EU Treaty. That’s what is called the ‘nuclear option’ in Brussels, and it would, in its last phase, require unanimity among all 27 remaining member states: Improbable, looking at the new sympathy between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński.

    But the main purpose of clear words from Commission and Parliament in the upcoming weeks would be a different one: Demonstrating to Poles how quickly their government is dismantling the pole position in the EU that its predecessors had built up, and encouraging Polish civil society which is stronger than PiS expected, and which is criticising its government without restraint. For the EU’s popularity in Poland is one of the highest in the EU: Year by year, Eurobarometer polls show that the Poles’ image of the EU and its institutions is one third higher than the EU average.  

    Many in PiS will claim that such criticism, published abroad, amounts to high treason, as the dirty laundry should be a family’s best kept secret. We strongly disagree. Poland has been a member of the European Union for more than ten years. It has grown into the community the same way the community has grown into Poland. Poland has become a part of a common political, social and economic endeavour, its citizens are at the same time ‘Polish’ and ‘European’. What happens in Europe, influences Poland, and vice versa.

    Moreover, Poland is not Hungary. After eight years of PO, its economy is in very good shape for a Central European country – so there is a lot of room for deterioration by PiS, whether we like it or not. There are now two opposition parties, PO and Nowoczesna, which are well organised. Polish Civil Society has responded forcefully to PiS within days. Opinion polls, for the moment, indicate that PiS has only a minority of voters on its side. Especially in Central Europe, governments can unravel if they don’t deliver. In this situation, the EU has a role to play.    

    And one last point: No one is happier about Central European governments’ illiberal drift than Vladimir Putin, for two reasons: First, because the rise in Euroscepticism weakens the EU and therefore the West, and second, because the weakening of checks and balances in EU member states gravely undermines our posture when we complain about Russian authoritarianism.

    So, please, Brussels institutions, show some cojones and stand up for the values that our united Europe is built upon! But do it smartly. Germans, particularly, must be aware of historical sensitivities, but they should not stay silent just because of their nationality. Let Poland’s partners and friends have their say!

    [1] European Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Association of European Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

    [2] Timmermans is no mere ‘unelected bureaucrat’, as Foreign Minister Waszczykowski would have it. He has not only been an MP several times, and a Dutch state secretary, but his knowledge of Russian dates back to his time in Dutch military intelligence during the Cold War – his job would have been to interrogate Soviet prisoners. If anything, that should please PiS.

    Konrad Niklewicz Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism

    Konrad Niklewicz

    Roland Freudenstein

    The new Polish government’s illiberalism: What the EU should do about it


    08 Jan 2016

  • The political parties from across the European continent have formed transnational political families, based on their values. The ‘internationalisation’ of political parties started in the late nineteenth century, but it was brought to a completely new level once the European Parliament (EP) came into existence, as the parties then had the chance to compare their views and negotiate their positions on the same policy dilemmas at the same time.

    From the beginning, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have formed parliamentary groups not according to their nationality, but according to their ideology—just as in national parliaments parliamentary groups are formed by the members who share similar policy orientations in order to better coordinate, share resources and exert influence on policy.

    This article analyses the voting behaviour of these pan-European parliamentary groups, whose cohesion and internal splits are used as indicators of the actual symmetries and divisions between national parties belonging to the same political orientation.

    How cohesive are the European parliamentary groups in the new term?

    The pan-European parties have long been considered mere consultative bodies, rather than decision-making ones. Power has always remained in the hands of the national party chiefs and the heads of state. Traditionally, the leading political figures within the EU institutions, whether commissioners or MEPs, have been seen as following instructions from their party bosses back home.

    But the aftermath of the 2014 European elections may indicate a change of direction. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EP has become bolder, not only when negotiating legislation, but also when appointing the EU’s chief executives. MEPs have been able not only to create a united front among themselves but also to rally support among their colleagues at national level using the structures of the European parties. Ultimately, they submit their candidate for the presidency of the European Commission.

    Read for FREE the full article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Doru Petrisor Frantescu EU Institutions EU Member States Integration Values

    Doru Petrisor Frantescu

    Values topple nationality in the European Parliament


    09 Sep 2015

  • This is the title of an excellent  book by Mark Mazower, first published in 1998, which I have just finished. Among the fascinating questions prompted by reading it are: 

    – Why did democracy, triumphant in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, become almost extinct across much of continental Europe in the following 20 years?

    – Was the League of Nations policy to protect national minorities doomed to failure and was the  alternative policy of ethnic cleansing, practised at the end of the Second World War, thus inevitable? Even to this day, European countries have not devised a good way of creating a sense of belonging among national and religious minorities? In some European countries, minorities now make up a disproportionate share of the prison population. Sport seems to be one of the few ways in which minorities are integrated.

    – Why did the leaders of Britain and France assume that Hitler could be appeased with territorial concessions, when “Mein Kampf” had suggested his ambitions were much greater?

    – Was there an alternative in the 1920’s to the return to the Gold Standard as a way of combating the rampant inflation that had been fuelled by the financing of the First World War? In a sense the euro, like the Gold Standard, is also a method adopted by many countries of breaking away from a previous  vicious cycle of inflation and devaluation

    – Why was the Soviet model so effective in the period from 1930 to 1950, in industrialising Russia and enabling it to defeat Nazi Germany, so ineffective afterwards in meeting the consumer aspirations of its citizens?  Mazower says Stalinism was a “bad idea, implemented surprisingly well”.  Communism collapsed later on, because Communist Party members had ceased to believe in it, and Russia itself had become tired of subsidizing its East European satellites to the extent of 2% of Russian GDP through artificially cheap energy.

    – Why did Hitler make the mistake of killing so many people (including 3 million Soviet POWs) who could instead have been put to work in his labour starved armaments industries?  

    – What accounts for the surge in marriage and child births in the aftermath of the Second World War, and for the unsustainable decline in birth rates in more recent times?  As the author puts it, “marriage has become a choice rather than a duty”.

    – Why did European countries diverge so much in the way they developed their welfare systems after the Second World War? The UK opted for a minimum income guarantee financed by taxes, whereas most continental countries opted for  pay related systems, whereby better off people paid bigger contributions to the state, but got bigger pensions on retirement. The result is that in many continental countries the biggest beneficiaries of “welfare” systems are the better off.

    – What will become of nation states, when so many of the important decisions have, in practical terms, to be takes at a multinational or supranational level?

    As the author puts it “nation states are becoming mere shells, with no real hold over policy, while alienation from government has increased”. Mazower says the real victor in 1989 at the fall of Communism was “not democracy but capitalism”. 

    But the problem we now face, as Europe tries to manage financial and banking issues, is that “capitalism does not create feelings of belonging capable of rivalling the sense of allegiance felt by most people to the state in which they live”. European Electorates continue to see all problems within a national framework, even though many modern problems cannot be solved in that framework.

    John Bruton Economy EU Institutions EU Member States

    John Bruton

    Dark continent – Europe’s twentieth century


    30 Jul 2015

  • To many observers outside of Brussels the recent ratification of Banking Union by the European Parliament represents the final step in the EUs fractured response to the economic crisis. To some, the Banking Union, as is now being implemented, represents nothing more than a superfluous project which will make no practicable difference to weaker member states faced with collapsing banks in the future.

    However, as noted by Geeroms and Karbownik (2014), the economic consequences of a euro zone without a Banking Union are significant. They illustrate that a Banking Union will help ensure the long term sustainability of the euro through a mechanism for dealing with asymmetric shocks. Citing the US experience they note that a Banking Union is a more important absorber of economic shocks than a fiscal union.

    In this context, the development of the ECB as a single banking supervisor will play a key role in shaping the euro zones long term financial architecture. Although arguments continue as to the actual robustness of the forthcoming stress tests, the very existence of such a supervisory framework has already had an impact on banking operations. The raising of additional capital by many banks has been complemented by the raising of statutory capital requirements by national authorities. The ‘coco’ bond market (i.e bonds that either convert to equity or simply write down investors’ principal when a certain threshold is reached) has expanded dramatically as banks seek to absorb losses while simultaneously increasing their capital reserves.

    Banking Union, specifically the creation of a meaningful European banking supervisor, has shown that financial regulation can have a direct impact on how major financial institutions operate. In this context, at least, it is clear that financial regulation can have a role in ensuring that the weak regulatory practices followed by Ireland and other member states in the past will not reoccur in the future.

    However, an overlooked aspect of the European Parliament’s recent legislative package concerns the imposition of strict rules on high frequency traders (i.e. financial traders that use sophisticated technology to execute orders in fractions of a second). This practice has been the subject of recent controversy in the US where characterisations of these traders as ‘flash boys’ has been accompanied by serious accusations that such trading allows better access to information, thereby prejudicing traditional investors. These accusations are currently under investigation by relevant US authorities and follows the so called ‘flash crash’ in 2010 when a sudden drop in the value of the Dow Jones was at least partially attributable to high frequency trades.

    The recently passed EU legislation also aims to prevent a repeat of these problems in Europe. Commissioner Barnier has noted that the recent regulations are among the strictest set of rules for high frequency trading anywhere in the world. Such rules will serve to protect the integrity of the European financial markets while maintaining the effective use of technology in financial market innovation. Combined with the coming into operation of the resolution mechanism of the Banking Union and the ‘bail-in’ concept regarding failing banks, the EU has significantly strengthened consumer (and national government) protections against collapsing financial institutions.

    Financial regulation may be an overused term in the post-2008 political landscape, but the EU – through its recent regulatory package – has ensured that the mistakes of the past will stay consigned to history as Europe continues to build a stronger and more efficient regulatory environment.

    Eoin Drea Banking Economy EU Institutions Eurozone

    Eoin Drea

    Flash Boys and Celtic Tigers: Do Banking Union and Financial Regulation Actually Matter?


    30 Apr 2014

  • Speech by Bruno Maçães at the Second Germany-Portugal Forum, Berlin, 11th March 2014. [Translated from Portuguese to English].

    The idea of a European Union is an idea imagined by artists and thinkers. It originally represented a project that sought to expand the limits of our experience, discovering different ways of thinking beyond our nearest community. Europe represents a specific ideal, dating back to the eighteenth century: the good European, a refined cosmopolitan, who knows how to harmoniously combine the best of several countries or nationalities, becoming himself a means of communication between countries. Think of Goethe and his voyage to Italy: the discovery of a new form of life, so different from what he had known in his youth and thus a kind of second youth.

    But this ideal emerged and submerged many times. A number of times it even risked disappearing altogether. And it was always an ideal limited to a small class of people. The European Union as we know it is a project to make this ideal safe and perpetual.

    How can we make it safe and perpetual?

    First, we must understand that the European Union does not seek to create a new nationality. It aims to be a communication vehicle between a number of different ways of thinking and living: a combination of these differences.

    Secondly, it is a space for free flowing communication where borders tend to fade. There is no free communication in a world of borders. When we think of communication, we think of trade, exchange of ideas and knowledge, mobility of persons, and of course, political communication as well. Politics cannot fall outside this scope. If we want to create a large communication space, that space must be based on rules and institutions. Eliminating barriers is not enough. If intuitions continue to be merely national, then a true European space will never exist, because those institutions will work themselves as barriers.

    This was very clear in the case of financial markets. Financial markets are unable to operate without institutional structures that, for example, define the right approach for bank supervision and resolution. If these are national institutions, then we will inevitably witness financial fragmentation along national borders. Perhaps not under conditions of credit expansion, but sooner or later borders will reappear, as was the case in 2008.

    The euro was not sufficient to create integrated financial markets. We could say that the euro was a further, and no doubt, crucial step in financial integration, but one element was still missing: common supervision and resolution tools — which are being developed in the meantime. Banking union plus monetary union plus free movement of capital, only together can they build a genuine financial union.

    Financial markets need a common institutional structure. A structure that allows agents to act freely, while creating a centripetal force at a deeper level. The same will of course be the case for other institutional structures. Fragmentation can just as easily be found in labor markets, product markets, as well as the education system.

    It’s not about creating a European power. It’s about creating a centripetal force to fight political fragmentation, just as the banking union fights financial fragmentation. For example, if a country does not implement the necessary reforms, growth and employment will suffer, with a negative impact on import demand. This becomes even more apparent when markets become more integrated. For this reason, political communication is essential, allowing member states to have a word on certain aspects of policy reform within other member states.

    The establishment of a financial union where financial borders progressively disappear is essential. But one must also see the logic behind the existence of an open space in which communication on public policy can take place. Let me reiterate again, my claim does not call for the establishment of common public policies. It is about creating a space where different public policies are in fluid communication with each other. I neither believe in a common European state nor in states that live reclusively within their borders. These ideas represent two extreme options, equally to be avoided.

    My key question today is: how do we ensure that national policies can communicate?

    Let me give you an example, which directly concerns Germany. We are all aware of the strong German industrial sector, especially its Mittelstand, a complex web of middle-sized businesses that are extremely competitive and extremely innovative at the global level. But its service sector is not anywhere nearly as competitive. I know this well because I lived in Germany. I am aware of the entry barriers new competitors are faced with, the resistance to competition, the regulatory obstacles, the weak productivity in law firms and pharmacies. What Germany needs is a service sector that matches its industrial strength.

    Is this an issue that concerns only Germany? Of course not. An open and competitive service sector would encourage more investment, the opening of new businesses, with the transfer of less qualified workers in the industrial sector to the service sector. The German industrial sector would move up the value chain, and countries like Portugal would have the opportunity to occupy those manufacturing activities from which German industry would be moving out. Productivity would grow in both Germany and Portugal.

    How can we guarantee that all countries implement the reforms that other countries need? This is the decisive question.

    I admit that for me it is difficult to understand why this communication is so difficult. Constructive criticism, learning from others, all this should contribute to the normal functioning of the Union. Friendship is built on sounder foundations where honest criticism is possible and accepted. It is for me quite easy to openly say it on this occasion: Germany needs to implement many of the structural reforms that Portugal has implemented during the past few years.

    A more difficult question and one where EU institutions will inevitably come in, concerns the appropriate mechanisms to ensure that structural reforms in different member states are better combined and coordinated. It is at this point that we move from economic theory to political practice.

    I don’t want to get into the specifics of this mechanism. I will just cover three points I think are fundamental.

    First, we need to adopt a preventative logic. Up until now structural reforms were implemented in situations of emergency, or constantly postponed. That is, they are applied in the worst possible conditions or they are simply not done.

    Second, this new mechanism would need to resolve the political problem. In other words, it would need to reduce reform costs in the short-term and ensure that returns do not have to wait for the next electoral cycle.

    Third, it must work as a form of collective responsibility. The costs must be shared because the advantages in an integrated economy will also be shared. At the same time the responsibilities and obligations of each member state before the others must be firmly established.

    To conclude:

    The European Union establishes an intermediate space where we can see things from another perspective, from a number of perspectives, rather than merely our own. This is a space where we can also contribute with our perspective so that others will be able to access it.

    Even more than Goethe, it is perhaps Fernando Pessoa who truly represents the European ideal. In his The Book of Disquiet (Livro do Desassossego), Pessoa is a man who wants to know and explore everything, who wants to be a lot of different things at the same time.

    Goethe and Pessoa are two magnificent examples of the European spirit. This European spirit is not limited to the cultural sphere. It is not merely an economic space. It should also be a political space. This is the true essence of political union, that elusive goal we have been seeking for over fifty years.

    Bruno Maçães Democracy EU Institutions European Union

    Bruno Maçães

    Political Union: establishing a communication space


    31 Mar 2014

  • Why is there criticism of lack of democracy in the EU at this time?

    One of the criticisms of the policy guidelines, laid down by the European Commission and Council of Ministers for economic policy in the European Countries, is that the European Union lacks adequate democratic legitimacy. I believe this criticism is exaggerated ,but has some underlying validity. The guidelines are ,of course, really require to be followed, not because they have been recommended by the EU, but because lenders in the commercial markets will not lend money to Governments who are permanently spending more than they are raising in taxes, or who are maintaining economic structures, that inhibit the economic growth.

    Economic growth is needed to raise tax revenues, and thereby to sustain better public services. But economic growth requires the removal of rigidities in the market for jobs and services that may prevent change. Constant change is actually essential to economic growth. Change is often painful, and evokes anger. Because its advice often requires painful change, the EU is being criticised…and accused of being undemocratic.

    But the truth is that, even if the EU, and the euro, did not exist, European governments with budget deficits, ageing populations and rigid economic structures, would be facing painful change at this time anyway. Neither the EU, nor membership of the euro, obliged the governments in difficulty to adopt the entitlement, fiscal or credit policies that have led to their present difficulties. But it is hard to communicate this to the electorate. Austerity would have been unavoidable one way or another.
    That said, there is a need for more democracy in the EU.

    Democratic legitimacy exists if the voters feel that, if they are not satisfied with what their government is doing, they can peacefully remove them from office. Europeans feel they can do that at the level of their city or local government, and they feel they can do that with their national government. But they do not feel they can vote any part of the EU government out of office. That should change.

    What should be done at EU level?

    There should, in future, be three, rather than two, sources of democratic legitimacy in the EU:

    1. The democratic mandate that member state governments, who make EU policy in the Council, already enjoy from their parliaments and people

    2. The democratic mandate that the European Parliament already enjoys from the people in the national constituencies, in which it members are elected. I believe there should also be the possibility that some MEPS might be elected from an EU wide constituency

    3. A new EU wide democratic mandate, that a directly elected President of the Commission would enjoy from the entire unified electorate of the EU. . The President should be elected by the entire electorate of the EU, using the alternative vote system of Proportional Representation, whereby the voter would indicate an order of preference among candidates, and the votes of candidates with lower numbers of first preferences would be redistributed according to the second preferences, until one remaining candidate had achieved 50%

    This new third element would create a vehicle whereby Europeans, voting all over Europe on the same day, could vote into or out of office an office holder who could help change the trajectory of EU policy. That would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU. It would bring the EU closer to the people. It would bring the same degree of democracy to the EU, that Europeans expect at national and local level.

    We must first create a truly European electorate, if we are to have the level of common identification with one another across national boundaries, which would be essential if there is to be public support for more federal integration.
    Electorates must first learn the” think European” before they will happily pool more powers.

    I believe election of the President of the Commission, directly by the people themselves, is preferable to an election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament. A President of the Commission, who had been elected by the European Parliament, and who can be removed by the Parliament (as happened in the Santer case), and who has no power to dissolve Parliament and call an election(as most national Prime Ministers are, would be too weak, and would not have the necessary independence. We would be introducing, at European level, the sort of weak governance that caused such difficulty in the Third and Fourth French Republics.

    I believe the separation of powers is an important safeguard in a Union as complex, and large, as the EU. The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people, rather than by the European Parliament, would preserve the separation of powers on the basis of which the EU has operated successfully since its foundation. This important separation of powers should not be sacrificed to the present ambitions of some in the European Parliament. Some suggest that the EU could gain greater legitimacy if the 27 national parliaments became more involved in EU policy making.
    One way of doing this would be by setting up a joint committee of MEPs and national parliamentarians who could question EU Commissioners and the European Central Bank.While this might do some good, it would not close the gap between national electorates and the EU decision makers. I do not believe that greater involvement of national parliaments in European affairs will contribute much to the democratic legitimation of the EU project. National parliaments are national entities with national concerns. That is the role their members are chosen to fulfil.In any event, national parliaments are themselves facing criticism for the performance of their national roles, and giving them a new set of European responsibilities will not necessarily reassure national electorates about Europe. Furthermore, national parliaments are subject to party discipline, and will tend to follow the policy line of the national governments in the Council of Ministers, and thus are unlikely to add many new, or different, inputs from those put forward in the Council by national Ministers.

    The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people does raise a question about the quasi judicial functions that the Commission performs, which many believe should not be subject to electoral pressures . These include Competition policy, enforcement of EU laws, and guardianship of the Treaties. Arguably these roles should be hived off to an independent body with a level of independence similar to that now enjoyed by the ECB. I do not favour merging the roles of the President of the Council, and that of President of the Commission, but only one of them(The President of the Commission) should be directly elected. This would establish a natural hierarchy between them, and avoid the embarrassment of sending two Presidents to the G8.

    Ideally, I would favour a smaller Commission, but I do not see how it will come about in practical politics because smaller countries will not agree to give up ”their” Commissioner. A solution may be to enhance substantially the role of the vice Presidents, and attribute some of the “surplus” Commissioners to the External Action service to handle EU relations with particular parts or regions of the world.

    In addition to the EU electorate, acting as a single body, electing the President of the Commission,10% of MEPs should be elected from in a single constituency of all of the EU. The question of a single EU wide constituency for a proportion of the European Parliament was an issue that the Convention on the Future of Europe was asked to consider, but it did not do so.I believe the EU will evolve a true common foreign policy only after it has evolved a common defence policy, and I believe that will happen, very gradually, and only because of financial necessity, not because of political idealism. But it will never be sustainable to have a common foreign and defence policy until we, as Europeans, feel we have common interests, and common understandings, among ourselves. That has not come about yet. I believe that it can be brought about only if we have elections that are truly European, rather than mere national elections to European jobs.

    John Bruton Democracy EU Institutions

    John Bruton

    Making the European Union More Democratic


    27 Jun 2013

  • Much vigorous debate, as well as some initial steps in response to the eurozone crisis, have established some groundwork for a more integrated economic and monetary union. But much less discussion has been devoted to how to redesign European-level political institutions, despite widespread recognition that a political reset is the other side of the coin. Aided by the widespread perception of a “democracy gap” at the European level, Eurosceptics are using this vagueness to spread uncertainty and doubt that is undermining the European project. It’s time to put some meat on the bones of what a functioning continental democracy could look like.

    The eurozone crisis has stretched the European Union’s governance capacities to its limits. That’s because the E.U.’s current political institutions are those of a loose confederation of member states — but a loose confederation is inadequate for maintaining a monetary union. Yet several key E.U. member states are tenaciously resistant to the type of federalizing of power that a monetary union requires and other member states desire, so a proposal for redesigning European-level political institutions must be predicated on the reality of a “two speed Europe.”

    This proposal outlines a two-tiered structure of: 1) a more federalized and integrated eurozone, and 2) maintaining a more decentralized – but also more streamlined — structure for the European Union, with these two structures co-linked in sensible ways.

    A New Structure for Political Europe

    As a starting point, Europe can learn something from the political and economic structures that a young America originally designed at the federal level, and how they evolved over two centuries. Granted, the American example is more of an inspiration than a blueprint, due to historical and cultural differences. But nevertheless the U.S. is a successful and longstanding monetary and political union spread over a vast geographic area, and lessons can be learned.

    Initially America empowered member states’ legislatures as well as individual voters, both because each member state was sufficiently diverse to have legitimate state-based interests, but also because they needed buy-in from the political elites of each member state (and many political elites, like George Washington, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, truly didn’t trust the average voter, much less than European elites today). So while voters directly elected the federal House of Representatives, the member states’ legislatures were given the mandate to elect the powerful upper chamber of the Senate, as well as to elect presidential electors that chose the national president. For the next century after the first government in 1789, both the member states and the elites played a significant role in selecting the political leadership of the federal government. But eventually America amended its constitutional structures to empower individual voters over the state legislatures (both with popular direct election of U.S. Senators, and with state legislatures agreeing to abide by each state’s popular vote in selecting presidential electors.

    So in drafting a more federalized political structure for the eurozone, it would be wise if both a direct popular vote as well as member states’ legislatures were empowered initially in a parliament. German statesman Joschka Fischer and others have proposed a similar design. How would this look in practice?

    A more democratic eurozone governance would have a parliament with two chambers, one directly elected (like the current European Parliament) by voters using a system of proportional representation, with the number of representatives per member state a close reflection of each state’s population (so the more populous member states would have more representatives). The second chamber would be selected by member state legislatures (as the European Council and Council of Ministers sort of are now), with the number of representatives being mostly proportional to the population of each member state, but with a few additional representatives granted to the low population states so that they are not easily overrun by more populous member states. It also would be wise to establish a process for amendment that would allow the second chamber to evolve over time into direct popular election as a pan-European political consciousness and culture takes root.

    The lower chamber of this eurozone legislature would then select a prime minister, who would in turn nominate her or his government cabinet, with one cabinet member each from a eurozone member state (similar to the current selection process for the Commission), to be approved by the upper legislative chamber. In addition, a largely ceremonial post of president of Europe would be directly elected on a continent-wide basis (similar to what various leaders such as Guy Verhofstadt, Wolfgang Schäuble, Tony Blair, and Radosław Sikorski have expressed support for). At some point down the road, this directly elected president could be invested with more power via the amendment process if that better matched the zeitgeist.

    This kind of streamlined structure – a two chamber parliament that provides direct representation to voters as well as to eurozone states, and empowers an executive branch selected by both types of representatives, as well as a directly-elected figurehead – would do much to simplify continental governance for eurozone citizens, as well as to clarify lines of authority, make decision-making more efficient and transparent, and better connect the public with their continental government.

    The Reality of Two-Speed Europe

    The likeliest scenario is that the eurozone’s 17 (or so) member core will be the entity that adopts this sort of federalized structure, as the momentum of monetary union drives the need for a more cohesive and effective political union. This entity would have its own common laws, political institutions, budgetary agreements, banking union and tax policies. The eurozone states would have merged their political economies and bound their destinies together in a way that is irreversible.

    This new eurozone-based entity would co-exist with a more loosely confederated European Union, composed of the current 27 (soon to be 28) member states. The EU could retain its present governance (albeit with some streamlining recommended below), and retain its degree of confederation but operate under much less pressure to integrate more than its disparate members are willing. And those who want to use the euro currency would be able to forge ahead not only with a fiscal and monetary union but also with the political institutions that are necessary to properly regulate a monetary union and to maintain democratic legitimacy.

    Just as important, this two-tiered structure should be constructed so there is the possibility of individual member states moving from the non-euro EU into the eurozone when it made sense.

    There are historical precedents for such a two-tiered, inside-outside arrangement, such as the 54-nation British Commonwealth (now known as the Commonwealth of Nations), or even the current United Kingdom, where there is a core Great Britain and other “members” (like Northern Ireland and some islands) that are more loosely confederated.

    Note that this design has to do with the STRUCTURE of government, and less to do with the function and specific powers attached to each player within this structure, which requires a separate but parallel conversation too long for this short article. But as we have seen again and again during this eurozone crisis, in which inadequate E.U. structures have made decision-making excruciating and prolonged the crisis, function in many ways follows from form. So it’s important to get the structure right.

    The E.U. also could use some streamlining. Without going into great detail in this short article, there are several institutions and practices that are ripe for a redesign. On a basic level, the E.U. should employ more originality for naming its offices and institutions. Currently the terms “president” and “council” are much overused, with a European Council and a Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers, or simply “the Council”). Outside the E.U. there is the Council of Europe. All of them have their own president, as does the European Commission and the European Parliament. With names so similar, few but the most ardent Europhile can tell them apart. The E.U. also is governed by an odd form of tricameralism (or even quad-cameralism) between the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council of Ministers. That’s too many branches, even for a decentralized confederacy. And the Commission being both the executive and the branch that proposes legislation fosters additional confusion and a loss of checks and balances.

    Europeans have passed only the first few bends in the road of a years-long journey to overhaul their key economic and political institutions. It is important to understand that, just like a young America in its “Articles of Confederation stage” prior to its first government in 1789 – which had neither a common currency nor federalized institutions — Europe today is entangled by many contradictions and tensions as it tries to fashion its union and decide how integrated it wants to be. The integration process took decades for Americans to sort out (see http://ces.tc/14sJ6L3 for more details ); indeed, those “united” states fought a civil war over not just slavery but states’ rights and member states’ sovereignty, a full 70 years after its founding. The road toward union is a long and winding one because it takes time for people, cultures and laws to adapt. Europe is a “work in progress,” and it may require a change of a generation or two for a new identity and institutions to form and take root.

    Clearly this is a big step, yet at this point it’s also clear that the demands of a monetary union require it. Either that, or abandon the euro. There appear to be no other options. And given the economic rise of population behemoths like China and India that are increasingly assertive in international markets, globalized forces will continue to put great pressure on Europe’s much smaller member states to band together or become less relevant and secure.

    This essay is meant to inspire discussion and debate, not to be the final word on a very complex subject. Isn’t it time for European leaders to put forward some specific proposals and ideas about Political Europe, and push that conversation forward? Sometimes the best way to instigate debate is to provide something very concrete and simplified that people can react to. Doing so might give the public more ease over this integration process, if people could see a vision for the future, and get used to the idea of a more federalized eurozone alongside a loosely confederated E.U.

    [Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is a political writer and author of “Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age” (www.EuropesPromise.org).]

    Steven Hill Democracy EU Institutions European Union Eurozone Integration

    Steven Hill

    Political Europe: A Blueprint to Close the “Democracy Gap”


    20 Jun 2013

  • Rafał Trzaskowski Democracy Elections EU Institutions European Union

    Rafał Trzaskowski

    MEP Trzaskowski speaks on redistribution of seats in the EP


    13 Mar 2013

  • The European Council reached a political agreement on key elements of the European Union’s budget for the period 2014-2020 (multi-annual financial framework) at its meeting on 7th -8th February 2013. However, the formal, legally binding agreement has to be jointly reached by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, for which the General Affairs Council has the lead. The Lisbon Treaty requires that the position of the Parliament is to be taken into account in this process.

    From an EPP perspective, it is important that the budget of the European Union is more than the sum of diverging national interests. It shall serve the wider European interest. The budget shall give the Union the financial means to fulfill its tasks and obligations, and finance its main policies in a future oriented manner.

    The European Parliament adopts its formal position for the start of the negotiations in a Resolution on 13th March. The Council will adopt its position at the next meeting of the General Affairs Council on 23rd April 2013.

    The European Parliament has made it very clear that the outcome of the European Council is not to be seen as the final agreement on the Union’s budget for the next 7 years and it cannot be imposed upon the Parliament. The political agreement of the European Council is, therefore, the starting point, not the ending point of this inter-institutional process. Due to the fact that it is the first time that the Lisbon Treaty applies to the seven-year EU budget, the role played by the Parliament in this process will serve as a precedent for all future EU budget talks. It is because of this that the Parliament is expected to have a particularly firm position.

    The main demands of the Parliament towards the Council are: flexibility in the implementation of the budget; a compulsory and comprehensive revision of the budget during its implementation; and an agreement on own resources, as a source of revenue for the EU budget. A wide majority of the Parliament supports these claims. Several Member States have also indicated sympathy for these demands and the Council’s negotiation mandate might contain some space of maneuver to meet these Parliament’s requirements. These points proposed by the Parliament are valuable points, and are worth including into the final agreement, so that the final budget assures that the Union meets its tasks, while the sensitivities of individual Member States are also taken into account.

    For the future, in order to avoid the escalation of conflicts on the EU budget, which also go against the wider European interest, a particular attention needs to be given to an EU budget built on own resources. This is also the spirit of the EU Treaties, which foresee EU own resources as the source of financing for the European budget. At this stage, each opposition leader in the Union’s 27 Member States tries to politically exploit at national level the negotiations on the EU budget. This puts extreme pressure on each EU Head of State or Government to secure national interests as a matter of priority. Any compromise reached by the European Council is subsequently exploited by opposition parties, often in a populist way, and presented as against the interest of the respective Member State. This leads to 27 divided national debates on a European topic. This is not in the interest of the Union. Pro-European forces should unite to explore opportunities for an EU budget built on own resources.

    Siegfried Mureşan Economy EU Institutions EU Member States Integration

    Siegfried Mureşan

    The future negotiations on the EU budget: what to expect?


    12 Mar 2013

  • The European Council has agreed upon a proposal for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework 2014-2020. The next step will be to seek consent of the European Parliament.

    As it goes with political decisions where 28 negotiators have to agree, the result of the discussions has been a compromise. This is how the European works and this is how democracies work in general. The more relevant question is whether the prosperity and wellbeing of the European Union’s citizens will benefit from the result.

    Some general comments can be made:

    – The overall envelope of EU spending will decrease. We could consider it as a missed opportunity to see the EU budget as an investment budget, to be used in counter cyclical spending.
    – The relative weight of expenditure on competitiveness for growth and jobs and economic, social and territorial cohesion will increase from 44.8% today to 49% in 2020, whilst direct payments in the framework of the common agricultural policy, although important, will decrease from 30.9% to 26.8% in 2020. This change is irreversible and strengthens the EU budget’s role as a multiplier of Member States’ efforts to increase social cohesion and competitiveness.
    – If the Parliament agrees, the Commission will have the authority, upon agreement of the Council, to ask for a review of funding programmes to maximise the growth impact. The Commission may as well propose suspension of commitments and payments. All these measures will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of public service delivery and with this, the positive impact of the projects on the Member States’ economies.

    Therefore, although one should regret the overall decrease in funding, the budget contains a clear choice for growth, social cohesion and better spending. Legislators should now focus on translating this philosophy into the sectoral legislation of each relevant funding instrument.

    Stefaan De Corte Economy EU Institutions European Union

    Stefaan De Corte

    A budget for the wellbeing of EU citizens?


    13 Feb 2013

  • allIt is happening everywhere in Europe: in Italy, a grassroots movement called “Movimento 5 stelle” (“Five Stars Movement”) has coalesced around former comedian and showman Beppe Grillo, who writes one of the world’s most influential political blogs addressed to young people. In Austria, three IT experts founded an online party at a press conference held on 27 March 2012. It follows the principle of direct democracy in that the online community should make the decisions.

    Specific topics which are internet-related, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as well as more general issues, can be voted on within pre-set deadlines. Live tweets from Parliament could make the party attractive. A watchdog council is expected to control communications and prevent, for example, extremist discussions. Starting in 2013, the party will open ‘real’ regional branches and create a national unit to participate in elections.

    The Pirate parties are a new phenomenon in the European political landscape and are particularly visible in Germany. In the 2011 Berlin state election, the Pirates managed for the first time to exceed the 5% threshold necessary to win seats in the state assembly, winning 8.9% of the votes. Since this turning point, the party has created media hype with positive feedback and has received some international attention, including in The Economist. Many members who flooded into the party after its success in Berlin are not concerned with internet issues. But they share the assumption that disagreements can be resolved by dialogue and voting. In March 2012 the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote and thus won 4 seats in the Landtag of Saarland.

    Subsequent polls in 2012 have shown an increase in the popularity of the Party (constantly over 10%). As was the case in Berlin, nearly one quarter of first time voters (23%) in Saarland gave their vote to the Pirate Party. This distinct generational divide indicates that reasons other than protest are important for the Pirate Party’s success. Belonging to the Internet generation and shared concerns over digital issues seem to be more convincing reasons than protest voting. The Pirates also have a new approach to politics. They depict themselves as a real party in which it is possible for everyone to contribute and no one has any privileges. The Pirates have their own software and use the Internet as the medium for internal decision-making. As a new party, it was able, starting in Sweden, to sustain a functioning organisation by means of the Internet. Even critics have to admit that the new form of participation has given new energy to intra-party democracy, although caution should be exercised in taking any revolutionary idea too seriously.

    Excessive transparency could open politics to ridicule, for instance through the live streaming of each session. Each slip-up or scandalous incident would not only be monitored, but could overshadow political content. Such openness may serve to promote curiosity, rather than democracy. Furthermore, the notion of participation and thus equality would be limited to the virtual community. And even here there are drawbacks: only a small number of party members are active in online communities. Moreover, the party congresses of the Pirates are conventional in important respects. We have witnessed internal quarrels, even to the level of insults and arguments over internal regulations and statutes—the typical tools also used in debates within established parties. Future discussions about the organisation and structures of parties will focus on the question of membership surveys and decisions as well as on virtualisation. This is especially true after the success of the German Pirate Party has shown that the internal dynamics of the social media community can already be occasionally regarded as agenda-setters for classic media.

    European Pirate parties generally define themselves as a new left-wing alternative to the established parties (including the Greens) and share ambitions for the European elections in 2014, vowing to promote a more transparent state and a larger role in decision-making for citizens. In the European elections in 2014, the Internet, data protection and cyber security will be the key issues, at least when it comes to reaching and mobilising the younger generation. The Pirates’ rivals are starting to copy their methods by creating virtual party organisations and internet policy platforms, leading to so-called Facebook parties. Euro parties must use the new tools of interaction for campaigning on the European level in order to increase low turnout and create a European discussion.

    Florian Hartleb Elections EU Institutions Political Parties Values

    Florian Hartleb

    Pirates & Co: The Fast Emergence of New Parties in the Virtual Age


    03 May 2012

  • On 24 March 2021 the German Federal Constitutional Court issued a decision with far-reaching consequences. The court ruled that the lack of sufficient specifications for further CO2 emission reductions from 2031 onwards in the German Climate Act ran contrary to the Constitution. In so ruling, the court narrowed the scope of action available to the legislator. Just a few weeks later a Dutch court went one step further, declaring that the oil and gas company Shell had violated its human rights obligations by failing to take adequate action to curb its contributions to climate change and global warming.

    These are just two examples of the approach to climate change that has been adopted by some courts in the EU. They coincide with the EU’s very recent legislative initiatives to promote a uniform legislative package on climate change that could act as a vehicle for the European Green Deal. We are confronted with two mutually exclusive risks: regulative overreach and efforts that are too little, too late.

    This policy brief proposes a balance between them. It demands that the legislator on the European level take a proactive role, especially in a time when climate change litigation is growing exponentially. The gap between legislative intentions and actions has been left unfilled for too long, so the courts are stepping in. To tackle a contemporary issue such as climate change, we have to find a solution to the old problem of the EU’s legitimacy and the extent to which member states have leeway in developing their own climate change policy.

    Climate Change EU Institutions Green Deal

    Climate Litigation vs. Legislation: Avoiding Excessive Judicial Activism in the EU

    Policy Briefs

    22 Nov 2021

  • The Geneva Convention, adopted 70 years ago, was created as a tool for war refugees from Europe. Only with time did the Convention lift its geographical restrictions and established a universal nature of refugee protection. Today, some blame the Geneva Convention for causing the European asylum system to be unduly permissive with regard to access to asylum and other aspects of international protection.

    Based on an analysis of relevant case law and international comparisons, the paper asserts that the Geneva Convention itself cannot be linked to certain overly generous interpretations and that such an outcome was not intended by the framers of the Convention. Rather, supplementary judicial and legislative interpretations, which have accumulated over decades, have caused Europe’s asylum system to become permissive in certain aspects, compared to those of other major democratic jurisdictions.

    The paper offers several alternative views on how one may assess the differences in interpretations of the Geneva Convention between the EU, on the one hand, and Australia, the US and Canada, on the other. An examination of these differing perspectives allows us to advance operational efficiency of the EU’s asylum system by moving it closer to the original intention of the Geneva Convention.

    EU Institutions Human Rights Migration

    Back to Geneva: Reinterpreting Asylum in the EU

    Research Papers

    11 Oct 2021

  • This paper makes a case for extending qualified majority voting (QMV) to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the Union’s main framework for collective external action. Although many EU capitals are unwilling to move away from unanimity in decision-making on CFSP, the paper argues that the benefits of introducing some QMV to this intergovernmental domain outweigh the costs. QMV would boost the resilience of the EU’s foreign-policy system to third-country influence, facilitate the emergence of a common strategic culture among the member states and mitigate the risk that the tone of common European foreign policy is set in various mini-lateral forums outside the EU. The Lisbon Treaty contains a built-in safety mechanism that is designed to ensure that no member state could be dictated to on issues vital to its national interests if QMV were to be used in CFSP. Initially, QMV should be extended only to the adoption of EU statements on international human rights questions. Although a modest step, this would help build trust and confidence among the member states, both towards each other and in the use of QMV in CFSP. If the experience was positive, this could create momentum for expanding QMV to additional CFSP areas later on.

    EU Institutions Foreign Policy

    Qualified Majority Voting in EU Foreign Policy: Make It So

    Policy Briefs

    14 Sep 2021

  • The von der Leyen Commission has made gender equality a central component of its ambitious programme. This policy brief highlights that, notwithstanding the significant progress of recent years, barriers remain which prevent women from advancing equally in society. The first of these barriers is posed by gender stereotypes. The second concerns differences in preferences and opportunities for work–life balance. The third barrier is caused by the combined negative effects of class and gender.

    This brief sets forth a number of policy recommendations aimed at helping the von der Leyen Commission to build a lasting legacy for gender equality. Only by making profound structural changes will the current Commission achieve results that can be viewed as truly transformational.

    One recommendation is to put educational investment at the core of Europe’s Social Market Economy. The second recommendation is to develop formal childcare for children from three to school age. This is a public policy that has a positive effect on men’s and women’s attitudes towards gender equality, in addition to wider benefits for the economy, parents’ work–life balance, educational outcomes and women’s equality in general. Finally, all policies at EU level should be assessed to determine their impact across multiple barriers and policy sectors for achieving gender equality. Policies focused on vulnerable groups often overlook the fact that the barriers preventing women from utilising existing resources are found in many different areas.

    EU Institutions Gender Equality Leadership

    Building a Gender Equality Legacy From the von der Leyen Commission

    Policy Briefs

    08 Feb 2021

  • Initially planned for 2020, the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Scheduled to run for two years, this conference will bring together Europeans institutions, civil society representatives, and citizens of all ages to debate on the future of Europe. Thus, this conference has the great merit of facing the issue of citizen participation, confirming the constant desire of strengthening European democracy. Similarly to the European Convention on the Future of Europe, this conference would also include citizen consultations, supported by a digital platform allowing online debates and contributions.

    Although it is difficult to predict the concrete outcome of this conference, major changes are not expected, but rather more reform proposals on the EU’s architecture and its decision-making processes, which will lead to deeper European integration. However, before the conference can start, the three main EU institutions must still agree on its modalities and, importantly, its chairmanship. It clearly reveals that the main difficulties barring the road to the conference are not of a technical nature, but rather political.

    Nonetheless, launching the conference as soon as possible would be a tangible, major achievement, confirming that democracy is still fully functional in Europe, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It would confirm the European Union as an advanced democracy, and probably the biggest democracy in the world.

    Democracy EU Institutions Future of Europe Leadership Society

    The Potential Outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe in a COVID-19 World: Strengthening European Democracy


    23 Dec 2020

  • The EU has embarked on a process to develop a ‘Strategic Compass’ for its security and defence policy. This two-year process began in June 2020 and will conclude under the French EU Council Presidency in spring 2022. A German initiative, it is meant to narrow the gap between ambition and reality when it comes to the Union’s external action; facilitate the development of a shared strategic culture; and clarify the overall image of EU defence cooperation that Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Fund (EDF), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and other post-2016 initiatives have created. Broadly speaking, the Strategic Compass seeks to boost the EU’s ability to navigate through international challenges. It is driven by the member states and the European External Action Service (EEAS), with the involvement of the Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA). To be successful, the Strategic Compass process has to be as concrete as possible in outlining how the EU should handle even its most difficult challenges. A compass is only useful if it can tell the navigator where north is. Likewise, for the Strategic Compass to be successful, the EU needs to set a clearly defined strategic north.

    Defence EU Institutions Security

    The Strategic Compass: Charting a New Course for the EU’s Security and Defence Policy

    Policy Briefs

    19 Dec 2020

  • The New Pact on Migration and Asylum represents a welcome step in the reform of Europe’s asylum and migration policies. By favouring a reduction in irregular migration headed to the EU, repatriations of irregular migrants, increased refugee resettlements, greater external border protection and more efficient asylum procedures, the Pact represents a step towards a sustainable interpretation of the Refugee Convention by the EU and its members. The Pact also offers new ideas on burden-sharing which may be more acceptable to the EU members than the previous proposals on permanent mandatory relocations of asylum seekers.

    Although following the publication of the New Pact all the member states have indicated a willingness to negotiate, it is going to require considerable patience and goodwill to reach an agreement that will satisfy national sensitivities while also serving the overall EU interest.

    EU Institutions Migration

    The New Pact on Migration: A Set of Innovative Proposals with an Uncertain Outcome


    05 Nov 2020

  • As the debate on European sovereignty has gained traction in recent years, Europe’s centre-right should develop its own distinct vision of European sovereignty, one that reflects its own priorities and values.

    This policy brief aims to develop a tentative theoretical and historical framework that can be used to work out what this conservative and Christian Democratic vision could look like. It argues that it is important for the centre-right to ensure that its vision stands apart from those of both the nationalist populists on its right and social-liberals on its left. Against populists the centre-right needs to show that conservatism and European integration can be compatible. As the historical overview in the paper shows, conservatives throughout history have supported processes of political and economic centralisation as long as these have taken place in piecemeal fashion and the resulting institutions have reproduced in their conduct and outlook the values conservatives stand for. Against the centralisers on the centre-left, who are currently monopolising the slogan ‘more Europe’, the centre-right must articulate more clearly how its own understanding of EU integration is a more pragmatic, effective and viable way forward. Contrary to progressives, who view European and international institutions as instruments of ideologically-driven social change, European conservatives see institutions as expressions and safeguards both of diversity inside the EU and of the distinctly European imprint on world politics externally.

    The paper offers a first outline of how a conservative perspective on EU sovereignty could be applied to a range of policy areas, from foreign policy to economic governance to migration.

    Centre-Right EU Institutions EU Member States Future of Europe Integration

    Towards a Sovereign Europe – A Centre-Right Approach

    Policy Briefs

    09 Jul 2020

  • This paper discusses an idea to create a European Legion that has been put forward by Radoslaw Sikorski, MEP. This would be a new kind of EU military unit, made up of volunteers rather than national contingents contributed by the member states. The idea stems from Sikorski’s desire to reform the EU’s existing battlegroups, which have been operational for 15 years but have never been used, despite numerous opportunities. The paper argues that although the EU’s 2007 Lisbon Treaty imposes heavy restrictions on the Union’s ability to deploy military force, it does not rule out conducting operations with a volunteer force. At the same time, a volunteer-based European Legion force would have to be created initially by a group of member states outside the EU framework. These states could then make it available to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy as, for example, a permanent battlegroup. An existing model would be the multinational Eurocorps.

    Crisis Defence EU Institutions EU Member States

    Rethinking EU Crisis Management – From Battlegroups to a European Legion?

    Policy Briefs

    16 Jun 2020

  • The pandemic has created an unprecedented level of uncertainty, mainly because we do not know how long it will last. This affects the economic implications. Two facts are clear: there will be a recession and budget deficits will have to soar. This note draws some implications beyond the immediate health concerns. In many ways, they challenge the architecture of the Eurozone. Either the architecture will change or the Eurozone as we know it will cease to exist. During the sovereign debt crisis from 2010 to 2015, the architecture was changed just as the Eurozone was on the verge of losing one or more members, with unmeasurable consequences. Will history repeat itself? 

    COVID-19 Crisis Economy EU Institutions Eurozone

    Looking Beyond Coronabonds: What COVID-19 Means for the Future of the Eurozone


    30 Apr 2020

  • During the last decade or so, the European Union has been spared little in the way of dramatic crises: the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, the largest refugees’ inflow since the massive population transfers that concluded WWII, and now the deadliest epidemic in over a century. In conjunction with each of them, a reasonable case could be made, and has been made, that the best solution was a ‘federal’ EU state responsible for, respectively, fiscal and economic policy, migration policy, and now health policy. 

    COVID-19 Crisis EU Institutions EU Member States Resources

    Does the EU have sufficient healthcare competences to cope with COVID-19?


    28 Apr 2020

  • At its core, the Coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic is a human tragedy. However, it has also become clear that the negative economic and social impacts are deeper and broader than were first anticipated. The continuing spread of this virus and the required measures to contain it have resulted in a concurrent slowdown in all major global economies. This represents an unprecedented challenge to the economic integrity of the EU, its constituent member states, and the global trading framework.

    COVID-19 Crisis Economy EU Institutions Eurozone

    Whatever it takes, for as long as is needed: Mapping a new European Recovery Programme


    01 Apr 2020

  • A decade after the crisis that came close to destroying it, the Eurozone remains fragile. Fiscal indiscipline, a key cause of the crisis, remains a relevant issue. Progress has been made to make the banking system safer, but much more is required to contain risk. Eurozone governance remains weak. This paper argues that six key steps are required to refashion the Eurozone into a robust monetary union capable of dealing with unexpected shocks in the future. These steps are:

    • Subsidiarity should be rigorously applied to straighten the existing muddled governance structures
    • Banking Union needs to be completed to break the doom loop between banks and governments
    • Pan-European banks and fully integrated financial markets offer the best solution to absorb national disturbances. Implicit protectionism – through regulations and support for national champions – should not be accepted
    • The responsibility for fiscal discipline must lie where the budget authority is exercised: at the national level
    • The no-bailout clause is the best protection against fiscal indiscipline. It should be formally restored
    • Some countries with large public debts remain vulnerable to market sentiment fluctuations. However, there are ways to reduce these debts without any transfer or mutual guarantees
    EU Institutions EU Member States Eurozone Future of Europe Macroeconomics

    Creating a decentralised Eurozone

    Future of Europe

    29 Nov 2019

  • On 16 July 2019, the European Parliament elected Ursula von der Leyen president of the European Commission by a narrow majority of nine votes. To be elected, von der Leyen had to make numerous concessions to the Socialists and Liberals—and to the Greens, even though they had announced they would not support her in the vote. This document recommends areas where action by the new Commission would be considered beneficial from a centre–right perspective. It does so selectively, without addressing all the possible areas of initiative. The recommendations are designed to highlight general areas of action, give a sense of direction and offer ideas, as opposed to prescribing specific measures. Thus, the authors intend this to be a discussion paper that contributes to the public debate on the priorities of the next Commission.

    EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Leadership

    Recommendations for the new European Commission President


    09 Oct 2019

  • The aim of the current In Brief is to explore the possible disinformation threats in view of the European elections in May 2019. European voters are exposed to similar negative narratives and strategic disinformation campaigns which managed to influence a large number of citizens in the run-up of the US Presidential election and UK European Union membership referendum in 2016. The analysis also explores ways to tackle future malign information operations by proposing  specific  policy  recommendations  for strengthening the European and national institutional capacity and also obliging digital companies  to  improve  their  efforts  in  the  fight against disinformation. 

    Elections EU Institutions EU Member States Internet Technology

    European Parliament Elections: the Disinformation Challenge


    24 May 2019

  • There is currently an on-going debate about the possibility of creating a new European Security Council (ESC) within the EU. This is an old idea that has recently been resurrected by those seeking to transform the EU into a more effective international actor. The current discussion of the issue was initially started by French President Emmanuel Macron during his 2017 presidential campaign. But since then it has been taken over by leading German politicians such as Chancellor Angela Merkel and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany party. The basic premise behind the idea is that the EU should have a new structure for strategic reflection and deliberation on foreign, security and defence policy, a forum that would not have seats for every EU member state. This would—so the argument goes—help the EU act more quickly and more decisively when a crisis or challenge emerged that required action from the Union.

    This paper provides a blueprint for the creation of an ESC, a plan that political leaders could follow in the coming months. It envisages an intergovernmental ESC based in the Council of the EU. Its day-to-day operations would be handled by the Council Secretariat, which would make the ESC relatively resource-neutral in terms of the additional staff and funding it requires. Hence, it would be not so much a new institution as an additional structure within an existing institution, which also means that it would not require separate mechanisms to handle its interactions with NATO or France’s new European Intervention Initiative. The ESC would have seats for 10 member states, five of which would have permanent seats (i.e. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland), three rotating and two case-specific seats. In addition, the ESC would have seats for a chairman, a military and civilian advisor, representatives from the European Commission and the European Parliament, and representatives from the relevant EU agencies, depending on the nature of the item being discussed. However, only the member states with permanent and rotating seats would vote on ESC decisions.

    Defence EU Institutions European Union Security

    EU It Yourself: A Blueprint for a European Security Council

    Research Papers

    25 Mar 2019

  • A no deal outcome to the Brexit saga has become increasingly likely because prime minister May has decided that her priority is to avoid a split in the conservative party. She has calculated that, if she tried to get her deal through with mainsteam labour support – her conservative party would break up. She would lose 50 to 100 members of parliament and cease to be prime minister.  She is trying instead to win over individual labour members by promising spending in their constituencies, a desperate tactic that corrupts the political system.

    Brexit EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    Catharsis, not compromise, is what Brexiteers want


    01 Mar 2019

  • One of the main concerns that voters are likely to have in their minds when casting their ballots in next  year’s european elections is security. This means that the EU needs an ambitious agenda in the area of security and defence for  2019-2024.  More specifically, it needs a set of concrete deliverables, which, if delivered properly and communicated effectively to european citizens, could help boost europeans’ sense of security where they might live in the Union.

    Defence EU Institutions EU Member States Foreign Policy Security

    Security and Defence policy: An Agenda for 2019-2024


    29 Nov 2018

  • This paper critically reflects on the development and implications of the Spitzenkandidaten system. It makes three claims. First, it argues that, despite the assertions of many commentators, this system did not appear out of the blue in 2014 but has a much longer history.

    Since the Maastricht Treaty, a series of steps have been taken that have clearly led the way to this outcome and, in fact, may even lead beyond it. These steps, including the role of the European People’s Party, are explained here as they cast a different light on the whole process, without which the success of the Spitzenkandidaten system cannot be properly understood.

    Second, the paper claims that, from a political–institutional point of view, the system implicitly promotes the parliamentarisation of the EU architecture and might eventually lead to a stronger EU executive and a weaker European Parliament, as is the case in most national parliamentary systems. This would be the opposite of what many of its supporters would like to see.

    Third, the paper concludes that, in order to avoid this unintended consequence and fulfil the democratic potential of the Spitzenkandidaten system, the current procedure must be understood as an intermediate step on the road to the direct election of the president of the EU. This, however, requires its success and consolidation in 2019. The paper thus ends with some recommendations that will help to make this happen.

    Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What Does the Future Hold?

    Policy Briefs

    06 Nov 2018

  • This paper aims to provide a critical analysis of the federalist doctrines that influenced the development of European integration. It argues that four federalist visions emerged at the dawn of European integration, each with its own specific ideological background and its own idea of what the federal Europe of the future should look like. The progressive federalism of Altriero Spinelli was different from the technocratic federalism of Jean Monnet, as much as the liberal federalism of Luigi Einaudi diverged from the personalist federalism of Christian Democrats.

    The  paper also contends  that  the  two  federalist philosophies most influential throughout European integration—those of Spinelli and Monnet— are founded on a unitary view of sovereignty and care little about protecting and retaining local state identities. On the contrary, within the Christian Democratic tradition there developed a bottom-up, culturally rooted federalism that was mindful of national and regional autonomy and averse to the concept of absolute sovereignty, be it national or European. Today, it is from this tradition that we should draw inspiration to redesign a more legitimate EU.

    EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Future of Europe Integration Leadership

    The Four ‘Classical Federalisms’

    Future of Europe

    22 Oct 2018

  • This paper reflects on the notion of differentiated integration in the context of the future of Europe. It argues that differentiation is only acceptable as an instrument of ‘unity in diversity’ and within strict limits. All forms of differentiation that risk fragmenting the Union and its institutional framework should be excluded. In the field of external policies existing treaties and the recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice allow the Union to speak with one voice and to privilege unity over differentiation. 

    As far as internal EU divides are concerned– from divisions over migration to those involving the rise of regional groups of countries—they are all transient and changeable and are not relevant subjects for differentiation. Finally, attempts to redefine the euro area as the new ‘hard core’ of European integration should be rejected, as they can only lead to the disintegration of the European project. Out of all the available legal techniques of differentiation, enhanced cooperation carries the lowest risk.

    EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Integration Leadership

    Differentiation, not Disintegration

    Future of Europe

    15 May 2018

  • This paper sets out ways to reform European education systems to  ensure  that  they  equip  Europeans  with  a  forward-looking set of key competences that prepares them for the workplace, but  also  helps  to  create  a  European  identity.  It  argues  that education and training—enhanced through mobility, transnational cooperation  and  structural  reforms—are  critical  to  boosting individual, economic and societal resilience; providing both basic and high-level skills and competences; reducing inequalities; promoting entrepreneurial mindsets; fostering inclusive, stable and democratic societies; and making a success of migration and globalisation. Furthermore, education should help to empower young people to engage with and shape the future of a Europe of democracy, solidarity and inclusion. The ultimate goal is to build a true European Education Area by 2025, which would, inter alia, improve students’ mobility, prepare the ground for the mutual recognition of diplomas and boost language learning.

    Education EU Institutions European Union Social Policy Youth

    Education in Europe: Towards a True Education Area by 2025


    27 Mar 2018

  • Just  as  it  did  seventy  years  ago, European integration today has four strategic objectives: peace, security, prosperity and identity. However, ‘mainstream Europeanism’—the current European consensus—seems increasingly incapable of providing the right vision for a successful continuation  of the European project.

    To meet the present challenges of European integration and secure unity across the continent, we should develop a new Europeanism that promotes stronger integration in defence, foreign policy and  border  control, while putting greater emphasis on decentralisation, national autonomy, economic reforms and cultural traditions.

    This would put into practice the EU’s motto ‘Unity in diversity’ and give precise content to the ideal of an EU that is ‘big on big things and small on small things’.

    Centre-Right EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism Future of Europe Integration

    For a New Europeanism

    Future of Europe

    06 Jun 2017

  • The EU is losing the battle for Europeans’ hearts and minds. The long economic crisis and the subsequent immigration crisis have frustrated millions of citizens and angered them against the elites—and, unfortunately, against the EU.

    Many fear that their material status, the economic security of their families and their ability to fulfil their own expectations and ambitions are slipping out of their hands. Europeans are also suffering from an identity crisis. Many believe that their countries and neighbourhoods are being threatened by mass immigration and that the ruling elites, sealed off in steel and glass towers in their respective countries’ capitals, are not listening.

    The EU is facing its biggest communication challenge ever. The EU institutions need to take up the gauntlet and start defending the European project. The purpose of this paper is to analyse potential new ways of ‘advertising the EU’. The key assumption is that, whenever possible, EU institutions should follow best practices from the business sector since these have proved to be more effective in the current communication environment.

    EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    We Need to Talk about the EU: European Political Advertising in the Post-Truth Era

    Research Papers

    23 May 2017

  • While conservatives frequently offer trenchant criticisms of the European Union (EU), they are short on constructive suggestions about how the European project should be reformed. The tradition of international federalism, which exists in free-market thought, can be a source of such a reform agenda.

    Understood properly, a federalization of the EU does not mean an unqualified transfer of powers to European institutions. Instead, federalism provides a framework through assigning authority to different levels of government.

    In practice, that would mean strengthening the EU in a limited number of areas to provide essential Europe-wide services—foreign policy and defense, economic governance within the eurozone and the single market, and border protection and asylum policy—while repatriating a long list of powers back to member states.

    A federalist approach thus offers substantial promise in addressing the EU’s central policy challenges and relieving the tensions brought about by the block’s protracted crises. Conservatives and classical liberals should embrace international federalism as a way to constrain the power and size of government. That could provide a new focal point for a reinvigoration of centre-right political platforms across Europe.

    This publication was originally published on the American Enterprise Institute wesbsite

    Centre-Right EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Integration

    The Case for a Federal Europe


    01 May 2017

  • The year 2017 will mark the sixty-year anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. On this occasion, the European project will receive a thorough check-up, and important decisions will be made that will decide whether and in what form it survives.

    In this context, it is crucial to recognise the long-overlooked contest between two competing visions of European federalism, propounded by two great figures of Europe’s twentieth century: Altiero Spinelli and Friedrich Hayek.

    The recent past tells the story of a revolt against European integration that is taking dangerously big dimensions and demands urgent countermeasures.

    Honest pro-Europeans should admit that some sort of Hayekian federalism is the only federalism with some chances of success in our continent.

    This briefing was originally published on the European Policy Information Center (EPICENTER) website

    EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Integration Values

    The past and future of European federalism: Spinelli vs. Hayek


    10 Apr 2017

  • Official European Parliament data was used to analyse the changes in the number of seats. The data presented in this document reflects the changes in affiliation of national party groups since the elections of 22-25 May 2014. Some political parties under ‘Other’ may join the existing political groups as the final composition of the European Parliament is still taking shape. Individual political parties from some member states may not be properly assigned to the existing political groups due to a lack of accurate information at the present moment. The data in this document was extracted on 04 June 2014. Distribution of seats is visualised per political party and political group to make the comparison between 2009 and 2014 for all EU member states. European Parliament data was also used to analyse voter turnout.

    Centre-Right Elections EU Institutions EU Member States

    Post-electoral Analysis: EP Elections 2014


    05 Jun 2014

  • Looking back at an eventful 2013, the CES continues to expand its network of like-minded organisations that now includes 29 members, as well as its strategic partnerships with organisations (International Republican Institute, Hudson Institute). Our online reach has quadrupled from last year, while our experts face daily requests from policy-makers and international media to provide opinions and expertise on the latest European developments.

    Centre-Right Christian Democracy EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party

    Activity Report 2013

    Activity Report

    30 Dec 2013

  • The European Union affects our daily lives. National governments implement regulations and laws which have been made at the EU level. The EU removes barriers between Member States, and we all profit from the freedom of movement of people and services in the EU. However, it is not always clear how these decisions are made, what policies are in place or the consequences these have for citizens and the EU as a whole.

    With much ongoing debate about reforming Europe, it is now more important than ever to know more about EU policies. This book contains 16 chapters on various EU policies, from financial topics to justice issues and foreign policy. It gives a broad and in-depth overview of the EU’s and Member States’ efforts to work together on issues that concern all of us, across the borders of the Member States. It provides information on the state of play and offers a glimpse of where we are headed.

    The book is intended for anyone who would like to learn more about EU policies, but especially for policymakers who wish to gain deeper knowledge of specific areas of EU policy.

    EU Institutions EU Member States European Union

    EU Policies: an Overview – From Decision-Making to Implementation


    01 Oct 2013

  • The appearance of political marketing and campaigning on social media is a relatively new phenomenon, which was first introduced in the US before spreading to Europe. The importance of online political marketing can be seen in, among other factors, the major advantages offered by the Internet—namely the rapid transmission of information and the possibilities for large numbers of people to connect. This is especially significant for politics on the EU level, which embraces a body of 375 million voters. Despite the fact that not everyone uses the Internet in Europe, the percentage of those who do is considered to be high enough for its application in politics.

    The goal of this paper is to examine the connection between European politics, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the use of social media, and to give suggestions on how the use of social media in political marketing could be further advanced. This paper starts with an explanation of what political marketing is and how it is used in politics. It explains the relevance of the theme of this paper, in the context of the lack of political legitimacy in the European Union and the low turnout in the European Parliament (EP) elections, and discusses the possible reasons for these.

    The paper then describes the growth of the use of the Internet, its influence on everyday life and its connection to politics. The paper then describes European Parliament elections and the fall in voter turnout (not only in the EU, but also at the national level). It then focuses on the growing use of the Internet in society – at the first place in electoral campaigns, although we have seen lately its application in social movements (e.g. the Middle Eastern and North African revolutions, political protests, the anti-ACTA campaign, the political riots in the UK, etc.).

    The conclusions suggest that, although present on the main social media websites (such as Facebook and Twitter), politicians and campaign managers in Europe need to further develop their use of this type of communication in order to find the right approach for European citizens. While campaign managers and advisors are mostly aware of the advantages the Internet brings to the field of political marketing, understanding of the phenomenon needs to be further developed among politicians.

    The paper recommends greater use of social media for the creation of stronger bonds between politicians and citizens in Europe, which could improve electoral participation and consequently contribute to overcoming citizens’ apathy and the lack of democracy at the EU level. Social media sites could be used to mobilise a larger number of EU citizens to vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections.

    Elections EU Institutions Internet Technology

    Members of the European Parliament Online: The Use of Social Media in Political Marketing

    Research Papers

    15 Apr 2013

  • 2012 was a pivotal year in European politics. The economic crisis reached a peak, but after four years of non-stop crisis management it would appear that the worst is behind us. While parts of Europe still face a long road to recovery, a consensus seems to have emerged on the necessity of the measures that have been taken and the positive effect they are having. Beyond our borders, the Arab revolutions and transitions to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East continue to be a foreign policy issue which requires constant and close attention.

    Centre-Right EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party European Union

    Activity Report 2012

    Activity Report

    31 Jan 2013

  • The sovereign debt crisis in some EU Member States has shown that greater economic convergence, the long-term sustainability of public finan ces and a European approach to banking regulation and resolution is necessary in order for the eurozone to become a sustainable currency area. This requires further economic, budgetary, financial, and thus political, integration of the European Union . However, when EU governance mechanisms are implemented or strengthened there is a need to reinforce the democratic legitimacy of institutions and procedures. In the short term, work should be continued to introduce transnational lists of candidates for the European Parliament and the standard use of roll call voting; the biggest political families should declare their candidate for Commission president before the upcoming elections; and more regular high-level consultation and dialogue between members of national parliaments and European policymakers on economic, financial and budgetary policies should take place. When it comes to long-term reforms, this policy brief puts these proposals up for debate: attributing the right of initiative to the European Parliament and the Council, in addition to the Commission; the direct election of the president of the executive, the European Commission; and having the president of the executive also taking up the role of president of the European Council. Moreover, the European Parliament should be more involved in decision-making, particularly on economic policy.

    Democracy Economy EU Institutions

    Democracy and Legitimacy in an Economic Union

    Policy Briefs

    01 Nov 2012

  • 2011 proved to be a year of change and uncertainty, a challenging time both for decision-makers and political analysts. In the European Union, austerity measures became a painful but nonetheless necessary step towards tackling the sovereign debt crises, while a wind of change blew across North Africa with new calls for freedom. At the Centre for European Studies we believe that visionaries can turn times of political upheaval and change into opportunities. This is why we have focused our activities and research efforts on the Arab Spring, particularly through our ‘Springeneration’ initiative, which is an innovative online tool designed to create a bridge with people in Arab countries who are experiencing profound political and social changes. Through its research and policy papers, the Centre for European Studies contributed significantly throughout 2011 by enriching the discussions taking place at the European level from a centre-right perspective. Research projects covered a variety of issues ranging from European economic governance to populist movements, among others. Working independently or in close collaboration with its member foundations, the Centre for European Studies organised more than 70 events throughout Europe in 2011. With the aim of contributing to the academic arena, two issues of the European View journal were published in 2011. These editions were devoted to protest culture and populist movements, on the one hand, and to the rise and fall of states in the international arena on the other hand. Committed to the values of the EPP political family, the Centre for European Studies will build on its successes of 2011 and will keep working hard by ‘thinking Europe’ in the years to come.

    Centre-Right EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party European Union

    Activity Report 2011

    Activity Report

    27 Feb 2012

  • 2010 proved to be a successful, while at the same time challenging year for the European centre-right. While addressing challenges and struggles over a new model of economic governance and the future of the Eurozone, Europe had to accustom itself to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The functioning of the European Union had been affected by the need for better cooperation between the institutions and had created many constructive debates in our society. The Lisbon Treaty reinforced the role of European political parties; therefore these parties and their foundations had to keep up their political efficacy and use to a larger degree the capacity for action and influence that the Lisbon Treaty gave them. In view of reinforcing civil society and awareness about the EU, think tanks started to play a more significant role. The Centre for European Studies in cooperation with its member organisations had an impact on crucial political debates in Europe as well as on the citizens of Europe. Through our successful activities in 2010 we made a further step in our ambitious path towards “thinking Europe”.

    EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party European Union

    CES Activity Report 2010

    Activity Report

    01 Feb 2011

  • After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and in the wake of the financial crisis which has challenged a number of certitudes and just as a new world order is emerging, it is now more important than ever to understand the issues affecting Europe today. The 2010 Schuman Report is a reference work to understand the European Union’s progress, its needs and the opportunities open to it. Once more the authors offer you original analyses which are supported by unique data and maps so that you can understand everything about Europe in 2010. The Report includes 22 articles written under the guidance of Thierry Chopin and Michel Foucher with a preface by Jean-Dominique Giuliani. The leading European experts address the following themes: the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty – opportunities and challenges; the European economic model after the financial crisis; the European Union an its neighbours : how are they progressing? What can Europe offer them?; the European Union in the world : how should it position itself in relation to the new powers? What kind of a relation can be established with the USA? What can be done for the Middle East?

    Economy EU Institutions European Union Globalisation Leadership

    Schuman Report on Europe: State of the Union 2010


    04 Oct 2010

  • The Baltic Sea region is the first macro-region to be recognised in Europe. The region is, therefore, a pilot project, setting an example and offering best/worst practices for other macroregions in the making. Dr. Esko Antola, the Director of Centrum Balticum in Finland, describes the development of the Baltic Sea Strategy and the next steps for the region.

    Baltic Democracy EU Institutions

    Baltic Sea Strategy a Pilot Project for Macro-Regionalisation in the EU

    Research Papers

    01 Jun 2010

  • This paper focuses on the political and economic impact of the ‘Big Bang’ enlargement of 2004, and discusses the question of the capacity of the enlarged EU to cope with the financial and economic crisis

    Enlargement EU Institutions European Union

    Six Years after the 2004 Enlargement: Taking Stock

    Research Papers

    01 Jun 2010

  • This paper looks at the origins and development of the European political parties, describes the campaign strategies in the recent European elections, analyses the results and implications of Europarties’ campaign involvement and outlines challenges and prospects for the future.

    Democracy EU Institutions Party Structures

    European Political Parties as Campaign Organisations: Towards a Greater Politicization of the European Parliament Elections

    Research Papers

    01 Apr 2010

  • The goal of this paper is to make available to European policymakers a general and consistent framework to design the competition policy of the future, as well as to reform existing competition policy in the EU

    Economy EU Institutions European Union

    European Competition Policy: Design, Implementation and Political Support

    Research Papers

    01 Sep 2009

  • This policy brief conducts a simple but daring exercise in counterfactual history by discussing the hypothetical consequences of the crisis for Europe in the absence of the EU

    Crisis EU Institutions Eurozone

    Europe without the EU?

    Policy Briefs

    01 May 2009

  • Globalization, international tension and security, economic and financial crisis, institutions and integration: these are some of the questions the European Union has to face in this election year for the European Parliament and the renewal of the European Commission. To understand what is at stake now and in the future, the Schuman Report 2009 is a reference work that offers unique analyses and maps along with vital data for everything the reader should know about Europe and the EU.

    Elections EU Institutions European Union Globalisation

    Schuman Report on Europe: State of the Union 2009


    01 Apr 2009