• Reflecting on the past year, it seems to me that the best word to describe 2023 is “turbulent”. While the war in Ukraine continued to cast a long shadow and question the very foundations of European security, other challenges, such as the energy crisis and rising inflation, tested the economic and social fabric of our Union.

    In this turbulent year, the Martens Centre remained steadfast in its dedication to Wilfried Martens’ vision of a strong, united, and prosperous Europe. As we commemorated the 10th anniversary of his passing, his ideals of dialogue, understanding, and collaboration resonated more powerfully than ever. Throughout 2023, our activities reflected this commitment.

    Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership

    Activity Report 2023

    Activity Report

    28 Mar 2024

  • Indeed, from the artificial one. But it will be damaging anyway. To the European high tech industry and to all others that could use some intelligence.

    If what is proposed is adopted, the regulation will cause Europe to fall further behind the US and China in the field of high technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI). It will also cause developmental lag in all other fields, as Europeans will not be able to freely use the globally available state-of-the-art AI tools. This is already happening. Google and Microsoft’s AI tools were available in Europe with a delay or not at all. This is a result of a previous “historical” legislative achievement called GDPR.

    After having tied the Europeans’ hands, the European Commission is promising to comfort researchers with dedicated funding for AI research. This is not a solution. Science that is not motivated by users, by the market, is not as ambitious as science that operates in a free competitive environment.

    Nor is it a solution that the AI regulation should not apply to scientists or that scientists will have privileged access to some data and technologies, as is happening in social network analysis. This is commercially extremely interesting data, and this privileged position gives science the advantage of deciding of what to do with this data.

    AI is just a computer programme

    To begin, we should debunk a myth. AI is not so special. It is like any computer programme: we feed it inputs and it creates outputs when we press a button. What AI does extremely well is firstly, recognise patterns in this data; and secondly, know how to continue and generate the patterns. These patterns can be statistical numbers, text, pictures, architectural designs, poems …  AI recognises a pattern that links a lab result to a disease. It continues the pattern when we ask a chatty AI like ChatGPT a question.

    Both the recognition and the generation of patterns are at the foundation of reason. Pattern recognition is the basis of all rational behaviour and science itself. Anyone should be allowed to Search for and find patterns. They are a mathematical reality. If AI finds a pattern that links the absence of a Y chromosome to a person’s ability to have a child, this is mathematics, not political incorrectness.

    Pattern generation, i.e., creation, is protected by conventions that guarantee freedom of expression. Why shouldn’t a human be able to express something they have learned with the help of artificial intelligence? Why censor it?

    AI is revolutionary technology

    Artificial intelligence is more than just another computer programme. It is a groundbreaking technology on the level same level as the Printing Press and the Internet.

    When one compares the draft AI Act with the regulation of the press in the 18th century, one can only be disappointed. In the 18th century, the fathers of America forbade the state to interfere with the press. In the 21st century, Brussels is all about interfering with AI. Instead of politicians worrying about how governments could use AI to create an Orwellian Big Brother, they worry about what private individuals could do to weaken governments. Instead of making sure governments stay away, they are interfering wholesale.

    When print appeared in the 15th century, no one was elaborating which uses of print posed an “unacceptable risk”, which were “high”, which were “limited”, and which were “minimal risk”. The Internet was also lucky enough to be developed under the radar until some politicians thought they were losing elections because there were too few controls on who could say what on the internet. The policies on “disinformation” and “hate speech” were born.

    It is impossible to avoid the impression that the rush to regulate AI seeks to prevent that technology from possible growing over the heads of politicians and challenging their powers.

    AI is a general technology

    Patterns are everywhere and therefore AI is a general, multipurpose tool. It makes no sense to regulate it as such. One should, as before, regulate the areas of human activities and do so in a technologically neutral way. If something is prohibited, it should not be done manually, or with Excel, or with AI.

    For example, it may be necessary to label fake photos as such. Whether they are faked with AI, or Photoshop, or with a sharp blade, should not matter.

    In democracies, regulation should follow a simple rule; list what governments are allowed to do. All else, they are prohibited. List what citizens are prohibited to do. All else, they are allowed. These rules exist and AI should not change anything. Should any new disputes arise, let the courts create precedents.

    General European regulation of AI also hides a danger of Brussels’ power grab. It regulates the use of a technology which is applicable in many policy areas. This includes topics such as internal security, justice, education, healthcare and culture. These are not European, but member state competencies. Thus, Brussels found yet another way to extend its powers beyond the treaties.

    In conclusion

    Sweeping AI regulation as such is unnecessary. With some “historic” legislative act, Europe will not become a leader. Just as we would not become a leader in the automotive industry by putting road signs and speed limits along the roads where Chinese and American cars are driving.

    It is not AI that should be regulated but healthcare, education, policing, etc. In the era of fast-paced technological development, legislation should be technologically neutral. It used to be like this. The 5th Commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill,” and does not specifically deal with knives, axes, or poisons.

    Žiga Turk Economy European Union Technology

    Žiga Turk

    Brussels is About to Protect Citizens from Intelligence


    13 Feb 2024

  • The narrow victory for the Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum campaign promised to reverse the slippage in British economic performance and global influence by quitting the ‘failed’ EU project. Yet barely two years after what Brexiteers celebrated as ‘Independence Day’, the bold promises made by the ‘Leave’ side in the referendum campaign have not—or have not yet—materialised. The national mood now, as evidenced in public opinion surveys, is increasingly unconvinced that Brexit is the answer to the UK’s current problems or impending challenges.

    The paper examines how the Brexit that was promised was always unrealisable because it naively overlooked the marked asymmetry of power between the EU27 and its former member state. The issues raised by the UK government’s preferred ‘hard Brexit’ were bound to face serious challenges that could not be wished away by simplistic ‘cherry-picking’ solutions. During the withdrawal negotiations the three British prime ministers (in just five years) preferred hubris to pragmatism and fantasy over fact, with the eventual outcome being one that was far removed from what was promised in the referendum. Indeed, Brexit has brought the UK serious challenges and unanticipated consequences, both domestically and in terms of its external policy.

    These were harsh lessons that successive British governments needed to face and that they avoided by defying the realities of hard power. The latest incumbent in Downing Street has finally begun to confront these unpalatable truths, acknowledging momentous challenges in the near and far abroad that point to the need to reset UK–EU relations. The time is not quite right for this though, as Brexit was a seismic, even a traumatic event for both sides. For that very reason the recent improvement in relations by no means ensures a prompt return to the status quo ante. It does however point to a more constructive relationship.

    Brexit European Union

    Brexit: Navigating the Politics of Discord

    Policy Briefs

    20 Dec 2023

  • EU membership was the most significant foreign and security policy decision in Finland’s history, facilitating NATO accession and seating Finland at the table with major Western powers. Current and future governments ought to recognise the significance of European integration and present a more tangible political vision for the future of the EU.

    The world system is changing, and the EU needs to adapt externally but also internally. In the debate on possible reforms, Finland should not shy away from integration but needs to also look after its interests. Due to the war in Ukraine, the questions related to the American commitment to Europe’s security as was the case previously, and global developments in security and defence will play a stronger role. 

    Finland has joined NATO, which gives it new perspectives, possibilities, and responsibilities. While NATO will be a major platform for security and defence cooperation, the EU will have increasing importance. Finland, as a country on Russia’s border, has a crucial role in leading that debate and is also a driver of EU defence cooperation within the NATO framework.

    Security in all its dimensions will play a more important role in the future, and not least due to the cloud that US domestic politics are casting over transatlantic defence cooperation, there is a strong interest to develop the EU as a security provider. As the articles in this publication point out, Finland’s border with Russia is not only a border of two states but a border of two global systems and views which are challenging one another. As a result, increasingly, what comes next for the European Union is no longer for Finland to find out but for Finland to define. 

    EU Member States European Union Future

    Finland in the European Union– What next?


    12 Dec 2023

  • The Russian state is a threat to freedom in Europe and the integrity of the EU. Since 1945 we have relied on the United States to protect freedom on our continent. While it is to be hoped the US will be able to stay involved in the most successful democratic alliance in history, the risk of conflict in Asia, a return to isolationism, or the re-election of Donald Trump is too high for the EU not to develop a defence industrial and technological base (DITB) able to supply Europe’s defence on its own. Such a renewed DITB will furthermore be able to contribute to the collective defence of democracy across the globe and support our friends and allies in the United States and democratic Asia. In the worst case it will allow Europe to defend itself from Russian aggression alone. In the best circumstances it will strengthen the international community of democracies.

    This paper finds that developing such capability is well within the capacity of the EU and its member states and proposes a series of measures by which it can be financed. It analyses the composition of the defence budgets of EDA members between 2017 and 2021, and assesses their levels of defence investment, research and development, and “research and technology” (R&T – fundamental technological research that is itself an input to R&D). It identifies gaps and recommends EU policies and instruments to close them.

    Defence European Union Foreign Policy Industry

    Freedom Must Be Better Armed Than Tyranny: Boosting Research and Industrial Capacity for European Defence

    Policy Briefs

    30 Nov 2023

  • Interview with Klaus Welle by Alfredo Marini

    Secretary General of the European Parliament from 2009 until 2022, Klaus Welle is currently Academic Council Chairman at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, with academic roles at the KU Leuven University, the London School of Economics, and the Colin Powell School for global leadership. After his experiences within the Young Union and the Democrat Youth Community of Europe, between the 1980s and 1990s, he directed the Foreign and European Affairs section of the CDU, before starting his long and prestigious career at European level: before his last assignment, which ended last year, he was Secretary General of the EPP (1994-1999) and Director General of the EP’s DG IPOL (2004-2007). In this interview, Welle reflects on the prospects of the European Union in the current historical context, in view of the 2024 elections and in light of the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, also offering his own vision on the topics of a common European defence and of the relations between Italy and Germany. This chat manifests a profound reflection on the legacy of the values of the founders of Europe and on how the latter must still inspire the next stages of European political integration, also in memory of the enduring David Sassoli.

    The European elections are approaching. Compared to 2019, the world has changed profoundly and the Union must also change to adapt. In a context in which non-traditional political forces continue to gain consensus, the classic coalition built on the EPP/S&D pivot does not seem to be an obvious conclusion. What is your opinion on the matter?

    First of all, I would like to point out that in the European Parliament – contrary to what usually happens at the member state level – there are no systems based on fixed coalitions. This aspect, after all, is easily deduced from the observation of the discussions on the individual dossiers. In fact, this situation means that during each vote, majorities are built from time to time on individual proposals and it is not uncommon to observe atypical convergences. I would add that the individual political groups do not always express themselves unanimously, and this represents a further element that hinders the creation of a fixed coalition system.

    Having made this necessary clarification, in thinking about the possible outcomes following the 2024 elections, I would keep in mind what I have just said, but above all I would avoid using national political categories to read the dynamics of European political groups.

    A further factor of complexity that influences the formation of coalitions is constituted by the so-called institutional issues, such as the election of the President of the Commission, for which a double qualified majority is required, both in the Parliament and in the European Council. In this regard, reaching this majority in the European Parliament requires complete convergence between the EPP, S&D and Renew, but as in political groups internal cohesion is never complete, looking to other political forces to build a coalition project represents a viable option.

    The interlocutors could be those with whom it will be possible to find an agreement on the names for the Presidency of the Commission and of the European Council. I therefore expect that all the parties of the current Italian Government could be considered as interlocutors, as they would participate in the creation of the convergence within the European Council.

    I make a final digression on this aspect, recalling what happened in 2019, when the Greens – on the basis of a programme that we could define as a little too green – decided not to support the candidacy of Ursula von der Leyen; so it will be interesting to understand whether or not, after the 2024 elections, the Greens will remain unavailable to carry out convergences as happened almost five years ago. Certainly, what has just been said will influence the negotiations for the creation of the next coalition.

    In an article which appeared last May in the columns of «Le Grand Continent» you described your idea of “conservatism of the future” and the role of the EPP in relation to the other European political families. In this article you also traced a sort of useful perimeter for defining the category of far-right parties…

    What I set out in that article is, first of all, a clear definition of the European People’s Party, after which I made a conceptual distinction between the political forces that can be included under the label of the conservative right – which do not fall within the perimeter of the EPP – and those included in the category of the reactionary far-right.

    In my opinion, the European People’s Party can be defined as a programme party. I was able to deduce this peculiarity in the field when thirty years ago – during my mandate as Secretary General of the EPP – some of the so-called Catholic or Christian Democratic parties, despite having a name that could have linked them to a pro-European thought, in reality did not share positive feelings regarding the idea of ever greater political integration of the Union.

    The EPP is, therefore, a programme party since it includes within it only those political formations which, although not formally belonging to the Christian-democratic milieu, substantially share its entire political programme.

    What would this programme consist of?

    In an approach that can be summarised in the complete acceptance of three key points: full support for the European integration process, support for the transatlantic partnership, and defence of the post-1945 political order, in turn based on the cornerstone of representative democracy.

    Current Christian-democratic thought is based on the desire to be able to find a synthesis between apparently irreconcilable concepts, such as the protection of social rights and the promotion of the free market, with the final aim of the protection and well-being of the individual.

    To conclude this answer, in the article published in «Le Grand Continent», I spoke about the method with which the EPP has developed over time, which I wanted to define as a method of mergers and acquisitions. An approach that fits perfectly with the essence of the EPP as a programme party, rooted in the three assumptions and principles I mentioned previously.

    And federalism? Is this word, cited in the 7Ds for sustainability report drafted by the Martens Centre, one of the guiding principles of the EPP?

    Of course, European federalism is part of these guiding principles. When I refer to it, I think of something very concrete. Federalism means thinking about different levels of government – local, regional, national and European – together and in harmony, with the aim of integrating them. I do not share an idea of federalism which paradoxically underlies a centralised government model. The guideline to follow to correctly express the idea of federalism we are talking about is condensed in the principle of subsidiarity.

    So, which sector should we start from to integrate the levels of government you are talking about?

    I firstly refer to the principle of subsidiarity, which requires that only those functions which require it to be carried out correctly must be integrated at a higher level of government.

    Having recalled this concept, I try to respond by saying that the sector from which we could start is that of defence. In this regard, I am drafting a paper that deals with what I have defined as the European defence pyramid; in the document I explain that the precondition for our member states to contribute effectively to NATO takes the form of the need to provide the EU with an internal defence market. The purpose of this choice lies in the strategic need to provide our Union with sufficient production capacity to not be dependent on non-EU countries (such as South Korea, for example).

    After that, this single defence market should be accompanied by the planning of large investments in the logistics-infrastructure sector and by research programmes that have a dual purpose, both civil and military. This defence and protection system that I am outlining should then be completed by a civil protection service on the model of the one developed by Michel Barnier some time ago.

    Everything should be financed with resources from the Union budget.

    The outbreak of the war in Ukraine has brought the issue of common security back to the top of the EU’s priorities. From this event, we have learned how much being technologically lagging compared to our allies and our enemies, continuing to depend on foreign countries in the defence production chain, is no longer an acceptable situation for Europeans. The Union must develop its strategic capabilities by investing in infrastructure, research, logistics and intelligence, drawing the necessary resources from the EU budget which, inevitably, will have to be strengthened.

    In 2019, President Macron, referring to NATO, said that the Alliance was in a state of “brain death” but, as you just recalled, the war in Ukraine changed everything. Are the European Union and NATO complementary entities or not?

    As I said, after this conflict I firmly believe that a new approach to defence is needed within the EU, but this is not currently possible outside the framework offered by the Atlantic Alliance. Therefore, for us Europeans, the time has come for awareness and efficiency in terms of defence. I also think that the European Union and NATO are complementary, as demonstrated by the progress of the conflict.

    In the next legislature, the European political leadership and the parties will have to act by starting to consider an effective common defence as a European public good.

    Next Generation EU (NGEU) was a successful response by the Union to the great damages caused by the pandemic. Could it become a structural measure?

    I believe that the NGEU was necessary, but there are some unknowns that must first be addressed and resolved. The NGEU was accompanied by the adoption of a Decision on own resources; with this instrument, to which is added a specific interinstitutional agreement, European institutions seek to repay the debt contracted through the EU’s own resources, with the promise – starting from 2021 – to work on a radical reform of the EU revenue and budget, foreseeing a strengthening of the latter with the introduction of new own resources. Therefore, in order to think about a structural NGEU, we must wait for a timetable from the institutions to understand when we can start seriously discussing the topic of the new fiscal capacity of the Union.

    Having clarified these aspects, I do not believe that we should proceed with the simple creation of new debt without first providing adequate financing, something on which the Member States have not yet found an agreement. After that, I add that the use of important resources outside the budgetary control of the European Parliament (which also needs to be strengthened) should not be allowed, even more so when the debt is entered in the Union budget. Parliament, therefore, must be able to control spending through the relevant budget control commission and the plenary. To conclude, if we were not to adequately find the own resources I was talking about, we would find ourselves faced with a very complex situation, because if the payment of interest on the NGEU loans were to take place during the next MFF it could happen that, de facto, we would have between 10-15% fewer resources than today. We must therefore urgently resolve the issue of the Union’s new fiscal capacity in order to make it increasingly less dependent on transfers from member states.

    The NGEU has been read by many analysts as the foundation stone of a true European public debt. Are we close to our Hamiltonian moment?

    You talk about the European Hamiltonian moment, but we can also draw from other historical examples. For example, until 1913 the US federal budget was just 1% of GDP, a ratio that could only be changed in times of crisis (as happened during the Civil War). The introduction of the federal income tax represented an adequate response to provide the American federal government with the right resources.

    In my view, the urgent need for a common defence, as well as external border protection programmes, represents the starting point from which to start working to increase the resources of the Union budget. In conclusion, to keep this instrument credible and give it a structural look, before thinking about new expenses, we must find a way to finance it adequately with common resources. And this objective cannot be achieved by simply adding together the debts of individual member states.

    The war in Ukraine broke the promise of eternal peace that Europeans believed in. In the aforementioned 7Ds for sustainability document, you help to describe the new concept of European defence on which the EPP would like to work. What can you say about this and what do you think of the new funding that the German government has allocated for the defence sector?

    I’ll start with the second part of the question. I would not give much importance to the efforts that Germany is putting in place to increase the defence budget, also because this situation does not represent an internal problem within the EU. In fact, it must be remembered that the German government’s commitment on this aspect is the minimum necessary to fill the enormous gaps generated by decades of lack of investments and, indeed, it is hoped that this action will lead to a sort of normalisation. Having clarified this, I return to the first part of your question, the one relating to the new concept of European defence.

    There are two points that I would like to clarify: first, the Russian aggression of February 24, 2022, underlines how only within the European Union can one be protected, and this is why the Ukrainians would like to join quickly. The war reiterated how NATO is about military hardware, but nowadays we live in an era where any phenomenon can be transformed into a weapon, which is why the European Union remains indispensable. In almost two years of war, we have seen food being used as a weapon, and the same has been true for energy and migratory flows. In the areas I mentioned – which are of strategic importance in the system of modern symmetric warfare – NATO cannot act effectively, while the EU can. My argument is that since this aggression, it has become clear that now, and from now on, NATO and the EU are and will necessarily be complementary. The problem, as we said previously, consists in the need to strengthen the Union in the defence sector very quickly; currently, according to some estimates, the lack of a European internal market for defence products leads to a waste of resources amounting to around 30%. This is because we still only have procurement procedures at national level, which result in an absence of competition. In the United States, there are just over 30 weapons systems, while in the EU we have as many as 160. This means that the United States can scale up and produce efficiently, while we waste money producing inefficiently. This is the first difficulty to overcome by means of a European internal defence market.

    The second aspect is this: as I have already said, we need to invest in research through the EU budget, using the next MFF to finance investments in transport and logistics, so as to intervene promptly in regions that may be at risk, such as the Baltic countries.

    The initiatives I have listed so far, let’s be clear, cost nothing! In fact, they would save money. We cannot afford to be inefficient and divided. The initiatives I have described regarding security and defence must not be implemented over the next ten years, but immediately, because we may not even have much more time available.

    Foreign policy continues to be a field in which the Union struggles to express and assert itself. Current events in the Middle East are a testament to this. What do you think can be done to make the EU a body capable of developing a foreign policy that is as univocal and effective as possible?

    With the current institutional structure, the EU’s room for manoeuvre in the field of foreign policy is limited. In reality, European citizens have been asking for a common foreign and defence policy for at least thirty years, but as we well know, these aspects touch the profound heart of the sovereignty of individual member states. The first decisive step to start from, as I have said up to now, is the defence sector.

    I add a further suggestion. If we look at the constitutional experience of the United States and France, we note how the direction of foreign policy is strongly anchored to the figure of the President. I say this because within the European institutional panorama, the European Council is becoming a sort of collegiate Presidency, and would enjoy the necessary legitimacy to act as interpreter of the implementation of European foreign policy, while also deliberating with a qualified majority.

    During the closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe, President Macron proposed the establishment of the European Political Community (EPC), an idea that also garnered interest and consensus from other European leaders. The EPC was born as a response to the geopolitical crisis following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, but among its main purposes there is also the creation of a political space for those countries determined to become part of the European Union. Does the EPC have a future?

    The European Political Community is, essentially, a platform for political discussion without a solid legal framework. The choice of this very “light” structure arises from the need to offer the United Kingdom a guarantee – following Brexit – that would allow it to join the EPC initiative while maintaining its extraneousness with respect to the continent’s political integration process. Having said this, I believe that the effort of the EPC is very limited in this extremely complex context.

    It is equally true, however, that it is urgent to find an answer for those countries that want to become members of the EU, but which currently do not yet possess the requirements to be such.

    In short: the European Political Community currently cannot play a concrete role in the field of defence and security, due to the limited political space at its disposal. However, I do not deny that it could develop in the near future into a platform for dialogue and support for the candidate countries for European membership.

    October 7, 2023 could become a date fixed in our collective memory in the same right as February 24, 2022. As the war between Hamas and Israel continues, images from the Be’Eri Kibbutz and Gaza bring to mind the horrors of Bucha and Kharkiv. The Middle Eastern picture is increasingly unstable. What do you think?

    We have to ask ourselves why what is happening in the Middle East has happened right now. In my opinion, the triggering cause of this tragedy lies in the success of the process of normalisation of the relations between Israel and its neighbours, which has now been underway for some years. In fact, in the wake of the Abraham Accords, Israel and Saudi Arabia would have normalised their diplomatic relations in the coming months, thus designing a new geopolitical structure that would have seen Iran certainly more isolated. Hamas’s ill-fated move must be read in this context and its aim was to prevent Israel from normalising relations with its Arab neighbours.

    The risk of escalation is frighteningly real, also due to the Israeli military response…

    I believe that Israel has the right to adopt severe measures against Hamas, but it should prevent these from turning into the political lever that Hamas is waiting for to achieve its objective, that is, to promote a general escalation of the conflict, in order to avoid a stabilisation of the geopolitical scenario of the Middle East.

    Do you have any proposals in mind to reach an acceptable settlement of the interests at stake?

    The scenes of violence that we are witnessing with astonishment bring the real issue back to the political discussion table, that is, how to reach a fair agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people that is capable of guaranteeing peaceful coexistence between two states. The agreement I am talking about should include as its central point the fair and shared exploitation of the region’s resources, such as water and arable land, following the example of what happened between France and Germany immediately after the end of the Second World War.

    What is happening today in the Middle East is reminiscent in many respects of the Franco-German case: the two European countries were bitter enemies for a long time, and both suffered the disastrous results of the wars that we all know, but after these events they managed to change their relationship, moving from an aggressive logic to one based on cooperation and peace (the so-called win-win logic). If in the Franco-German case the engine of peace was the shared management of limited resources such as steel and coal, in the Israeli-Palestinian case we could refer – as I was saying – to the joint exploitation of water and arable land.

    It is probably obvious to reiterate that Hamas can never be a party to this agreement because: a) it does not represent the Palestinian people; b) it is a terrorist organisation with which any form of dialogue is radically excluded; c) it embodies the opposite of any logic based on peace and cooperation.

    I conclude this answer by referring one last time to the Franco-German example. After the Second World War, there was more than one reason not to reinsert Germany into the international community, but it was still decided to offer the German people a second chance. And it was thanks to that courageous decision that today we can talk about the most successful project of peace and common development in history. I believe that the same pragmatic spirit must be adopted to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and I would add that the same should be done towards Russia; with this statement I mean to say that we Europeans must not abandon the hope of seeing a Russia different from the current authoritarian regime, a Russia that can become democratic and capable of cooperating peacefully with its neighbours.

    Let’s move on to immigration, a phenomenon to which it has not been possible to offer an adequate response. Recently, the Italian and German governments also had a heated discussion on the Crisis Regulation. Your opinion on this aspect?

    Let me start by saying that I am not an expert on the subject, but what I can say is the following: the EU is currently not a state but a union of citizens and states. Having reiterated this, all issues relating to the distribution of the burden of managing migratory flows are – politically speaking – always difficult. From my point of view, we must find a fair compromise and I believe that the proposal developed by the European Union could be one.

    If border countries must commit to registering and providing protection to refugees who need it, at the same time we cannot allow this aspect to be managed by a few in the interest of all: therefore, it is necessary to provide a solidarity mechanism between member states. In addition to what I have just said, agreements must be signed with the countries of origin, even knowing that the task is not easy, since the countries in question are often not democracies. Limiting the number of arrivals and equitably distributing the responsibilities related to the management of the Union’s external borders must be our immediate objective.

    With respect to the strategic issue of the protection of the EU’s external borders, I want to clarify how Germany itself must be ready to make its contribution, even though it is not a border country. A revolution in the approach to some issues is necessary. The external borders of our Union – as for defence – must be understood as a European public good to be protected with the EU’s own resources.

    The elections last October in Hesse and Bavaria saw the victory of the CDU/CSU, but the AfD sees its consensus growing. Are we approaching a scenario where the far right in government may no longer be taboo?

    In one of the previous answers, I stated that the far right can be summarised in a triple system of oppositions: against European integration, against the transatlantic partnership and against the post-1945 political order. The AfD, therefore, is undoubtedly a far-right party, as is Marine Le Pen’s party in France. These political formations have nothing in common with the EPP, as they represent its exact opposite. Therefore, any coalition with these subjects is completely excluded.

    The AfD took advantage of the problems of the current German government to build its consensus; problems that are generated by the forced nature of the coalition made up of Liberals, Greens, and Social Democrats. The great failure of this government is also measured on the issue of the energy transition, where the desire to proceed with the decarbonisation of our production system did not consider the economic difficulties of a large part of German citizens (the reference is mainly to the energy conversion plan for existing buildings). The dissatisfaction generated among citizens on this aspect has turned into the political leverage that the far-right has exploited to build its crude populist program.

    Returning to relations between Italy and Germany: which dossiers should the joint efforts of the two governments focus on?

    Germany and Italy have very strong historical ties (in Germany we always say that we have a federal system because the Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire was too busy strengthening his power in Italy to do the same in Germany). So, yes, there is a strong historical bond, but there is also an economic partnership of great strategic importance; it is no coincidence that southern Germany and northern Italy are, economically speaking, a single region and a single production chain, especially (and not only) in the automotive sector. For Germany, Italian stability – both economic and political – is a crucial aspect. We have witnessed many sudden and continuous changes in Italian politics (basically from the end of the Christian Democracy onwards) and we therefore hope to now enter a phase of greater stability. Perhaps it is a naive hope, but it would also be very welcome for our cooperation within the European Union.

    You held the prestigious role of Secretary General of the European Parliament. I believe that this experience in particular gave you the opportunity to understand the potential and defects of the Union. President Sassoli, referring to the European Union, said that “we are not an accident of history”. So, what do you think the legacy of the Founding Fathers of the EU is today?

    Allow me to make a premise. I had an excellent relationship with President Sassoli, at the time I was Secretary General of the EP and I remember the moment of his election very well. That day, immediately after the vote, while he was giving the inauguration speech you referred to, he took his seat and put his hand on my shoulder. It was an extraordinary gesture for me and thus demonstrated to the whole Parliament that we would share some important responsibilities together during his mandate.

    From my point of view, the legacy of the founders is still here, and you can perceive it precisely by looking at the figure of President Sassoli, a person capable of condensing and interpreting the principles and values we talk about even in the difficulties of the present. So, the legacy of the founders is still here and is inspiring young leaders across Europe.

    How is this legacy perceived in Germany in light of the great challenges of the present?

    Challenge is a relative concept; in Germany we have often experienced this relativity. I believe that the present is complex, but in reality, every era had its own complexities. Like at the beginning, in the 1950s, when we had to decide whether to accept the Germans again after the atrocities of the Second World War. After that, it was a succession of challenging moments: in the 1960s we had Charles De Gaulle with the empty chair policy, in the 1980s the economic crisis, in the 1990s we had to introduce the euro and, finally, came the financial crisis.

    I therefore believe that it is the duty of every generation to renew its commitment to Europe while keeping the spirit of the founders alive. I want to say that every generation has the possibility of becoming – again – the generation of the founders, because every era has specific challenges that only contemporaries can respond to.

    Today, as I was saying, we are put to the test above all in the defence sector, in the awareness that the war in Ukraine is not a simple regional phenomenon and brings with it a big question, namely: what are the rules that we want to make reign on the European continent and, consequently, in the world? Russia answers this question by reaffirming the rules of the 19th century, according to which the strongest can overwhelm the weakest.

    As the European Union, on the contrary, we offer to protect member states and our value system knowing that individual nation states are too weak to do it alone. Will we be strong enough to defend our Union from a new authoritarian wave?

    In this sense, if we manage to move towards a serious effort for the creation of a common European defence, we ourselves will become founding mothers and fathers.

    During my mandate as Secretary General, also thanks to the strong support of President Sassoli, the House of European History has become an important place both for spreading the principles and vision of the founders and for underlining this continuity between us and the past. I strongly support the idea that we Europeans have a common culture, past and future and those who do not fight for a common future will always oppose our common past too.

    Poland, especially after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, plays a very important role both within the Union and NATO. In the recent general elections, the PiS failed to block the civic coalition led by Tusk. What do you think?

    I think these results are a great relief for the European Union, they certainly are for me. I think Donald Tusk had great courage in taking the fight into his own hands. On this occasion, it was especially young people who came forward, clearly stating that they do not want a nationalist future, but rather aspire to a future in an open society within the European Union, also helping the Ukrainians of course. I therefore think that this is a very important moment for liberal and pro-European political forces.

    Klaus Welle EU Member States European Union NATO Ukraine

    NATO and the EU are complementary, but the Union must have a common defence

    In the Media - Interviews and Expert Quotes

    22 Nov 2023

  • European Union Sustainability

    Sustainable Europe: Cross-cutting strategies for a future-proof Union

    European View

    20 Nov 2023

  • This paper is the most recent edition of the 7Ds project which was initially released in April 2023, updated after stakeholder consultations.

    The EPP is built on the beliefs of Christian Democratic and Conservative People’s Parties.

    Conservatives know that not every reform is progress. They have shared scepticism towards ideologies, and prefer pragmatic solutions. They abhor the violence of revolutions and realise that existing institutions contain the wisdom of generations.

    Christian Democrats try to balance and reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable: the social market economy, pluralism, federalism, popular parties and centrism. They aim to be the force of reconciliation and moderation in society.

    Both Christian Democrats and Conservatives engage in the defence of the order firmly established in the free part of the European continent after 1945: representative democracy, the rule of law, inviolable human rights and a firm stand against any attempts of illiberal democratic backsliding.

    The Conservative intent to preserve and the Christian Democrat willingness to balance converge in the principle of sustainability. If we wish to preserve, we must find a proper balance between present and future necessities and ensure fairness between generations.

    Sustainability, therefore, has to be the core guiding principle of Christian Democrat and Conservative action across all policy areas.

    European Union Leadership Sustainability

    The 7Ds for Sustainability:  175 Proposals for the Next Legislature

    The 7Ds

    25 Oct 2023

  • This is a joint publication of the Martens Centre and the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Bulgaria, and contains the conference proceedings from the common project “The State of the European Union – a Need for Unity and Solidarity” co-organised in cooperation with the University of Sofia “St. Kliment Ohridski” earlier this year. The articles in this publication reflect on four major themes: unity and solidarity in the EU; European identity, education, skills and culture; EU media policy and how to protect freedom of expression in the digital age; and EU enlargement and neighbourhood policies.

    EU Member States European Union

    The State of the European Union – A Need for Unity and Solidarity


    23 Oct 2023

  • European Union

    Remembering our Founder Wilfried Martens on the 10th anniversary of his passing

    Multimedia - Other videos

    12 Oct 2023

  • Probably the most important attempt to revamp the EU’s enlargement policy in the last decade has been the adoption of the New Methodology for Accession Negotiations in 2020, which has been ambitiously envisaged as a robust framework for accelerated integration of the Western Balkans, which will provide more clarity and a stronger political steer of the accession process.

    Having in mind the main characteristics of “accelerated integration and phasing-in” as
    defined in the official EU documents, the brief analyzes the mechanism both from a policy
    and an institutional perspective.

    Enlargement EU Member States European Union Integration

    A Blueprint For Accelerated Integration and Phasing-In


    27 Sep 2023

  • 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

  • Welcome to the Migration Update May 2023. This curated news selection brings together many of the most important developments in the migration policy area over the last month, including recent ones tied to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

    The purpose of these news summaries is to provide a factual base for migration debates within the European centre-right. Vít Novotný is responsible for the selection of information items from the media, governments and social media. The value of these summaries is in the categorisation of information items and in listing those items that readers might have missed. Facts and opinions are conveyed as they are reported. Original comments are kept to a minimum. These news summaries are not subject to a formal editorial process. George Dimakos prepared the cases for the Judicial Observatory and the visuals and some background material on the Asylum and Migration Management Regulation. Andris Petersons supplied a news item. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Vít Novotný at vn@martenscentre.eu.

    Vít Novotný European Union Migration

    Migration Update June 2023

    Migration Update

    30 Jun 2023

  • Crisis Economy European Union

    Navigating through renewed economic uncertainty

    European View

    26 Apr 2023

  • Following his recent trip to China, French President Emmanuel Macron drew global attention with two remarks: First, that Taiwan is not Europe’s problem, and second that Europe should avoid being a constant ‘follower’ of the US. Quite the opposite he claims, the EU must emancipate itself and become a third global superpower – alongside the United States and China.

    At best, the first statement is unreasonable and short-sighted. At worst, it is dangerous for Europe. Europe’s ‘dissociation’ from the strategic alliance with the USA is clearly disadvantageous for our continent. The US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific would be able to tackle China’s drive for dominance in the South China Sea and adjacent territories much more easily than we in Europe would be able to tackle, by ourselves alone, the threat posed by Russia and the challenge represented by an increasingly unsettled Africa.

    The second remark, emphasising the need for Europe’s emancipation is appealing, politically ‘catchy’ and, in principle, correct. But it runs into issues as soon as one considers the paradox that France is doing absolutely nothing to turn that contention into reality.

    To become a real superpower, the EU not only needs a robust common market, but also corresponding common armed forces, able to act as an effective deterrent and, if warranted, as a factor capable of averting an attack and defending European interests.

    Common European armed forces can be created and effectively deployed only on the condition that the EU’s foreign policy and its decision-making are transformed to meet this purpose. It is precisely on this point where France is ‘blocking the door’ and shows no intention of removing said obstruction.

    France would be making a very strong contribution to strengthening Europe’s position by vacating its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, in favour of the European Commission. If France wished to make an even stronger contribution to increasing the European project’s authority, it could share its nuclear arsenal with Germany, Poland, and other EU countries. This with the ultimate objective of handing this arsenal over to the command of common, unified European armed forces.

    And finally – the EU will not enjoy the esteem and respect it is due if the French President spends time parading on the red carpet at Beijing airport, while the Head of the European Executive is wandering down the side corridors of that same airport. In other words: if the EU has 27 national ‘chiefs’ plus the European one as a makeweight, and until EU citizens elect a single President with appropriate competences, the EU will be only a paper tiger on the global scale, rather than a real superpower.

    Who else but the President of France should instigate concrete steps to transform the EU from being a paper tiger into a real superpower? Instead, the French president is giving speeches and dazzling audiences but, in essence, he is bluffing. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are not the only ones who see it. A growing number of Europeans are beginning to realise this also, who have until now maintained their belief in the European project but are increasingly frustrated about the future.

    This is what Macron must be reminded of at every opportunity. For it is France that holds the mixer which can help supply most of the concrete for our European house.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda European Union Foreign Policy Leadership

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    Deeds, not Bluffs, President Macron!


    24 Apr 2023

  • Banking Crisis Economy European Union

    Thinking Talks Ep.9 – ‘The Spectre of a new Banking Crisis’ with MEP Luděk Niedermayer

    Multimedia - Thinking Talks

    31 Mar 2023

  • Loredana Teodorescu Digital European Union tech

    Women in Digital and Tech Innovation with Eva Maydell

    Her and EU

    30 Mar 2023

  • Without a doubt, 2022 will be remembered as one of the most challenging and shocking years of the 21st century, as we faced the greatest challenge in our Eastern neighbourhood since the fall of Communism in the late 1980s.

    The increasingly complex geopolitical circumstances in which Europe finds itself require the development of a European response that can effectively address current challenges and anticipate future threats, while preserving the bloc’s inherent values and principles.

    The Martens Centre’s ambition was to react to the above-mentioned challenges through our research, projects and communications strategy, to incite expert debates, raise awareness, and provide our centre-right leadership and our network with such ideas and recommendations that could address the issues we face in this increasingly fractured global environment.

    Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership

    Activity Report 2022

    Activity Report

    30 Mar 2023

  • Achieving a successful clean energy transition while retaining control over necessary critical resources cannot happen if EU Member States continue to avoid the inconvenient discussion on the importance of domestic production.

    This week the European Commission is set to unveil the Critical Raw Materials (CRM) Act to provide a framework to tackle the issue of resource dependencies in pursuit of the Green Deal policy objectives. However, the success of this framework hinges on the willingness of Member States to move beyond quick fixes and to make hard choices on the trade-offs between security of critical resources and Europe’s long-term environmental agenda. 

    European policymakers have long been aware that action needs to be taken to ensure the stability of its domestic supply of CRMs. These resources, which include amongst others rare-earth elements (REEs), lithium, silicon, and zinc, are crucial for the development of green energy solutions, such as for solar PVs, and off-and-on-shore wind turbines, as well as electronic vehicles (Fig 1). However, the vast majority of CRMs are currently sourced from China, which holds a near monopoly over the refinement of REEs, and accounts for over half of the production of processed cobalt and lithium. 

    Table 1: Minerals used in clean energy technologies compared to other power generation sources

    Source: International Energy Agency

    Beyond its borders, the Asian country is investing heavily in the extraction of strategic resources, further cementing its leadership position. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which produces 70% of the global cobalt supply, Chinese companies own 15 out of the 17 mining operations. China’s dominance in the field of CRMs has facilitated its rise as a top producer of clean energy technology. For years, Beijing has aggressively subsidised its clean energy industry and manufacturing, resulting in a market share of 75% to 90% of every stage of the production process (Fig. 2). Not to mention the continuing use of Uyghur slave labour in the Xinjiang region, which is extremely rich in polysilicon supply. 

    Despite the existence of adequate deposits within the continent, the EU lacks any meaningful domestic production of CRMs. The economic bloc stands for less than 5% of global production while our industries require around 20% of global supply. This is not sustainable. Global consumption is set to increase substantially over the years, especially within the EU, which is investing heavily in sustainability. World Bank estimates show that demand for minerals such as graphite, lithium or cobalt will increase five-fold by 2050. 

    Fig. 2 Regional shares of manufacturing capacity for selected mass-manufactured clean energy and components, 2021

    Source: International Energy Agency

    The current EU strategy, focusing on strengthening the circular economy and diversifying supply chains, provides a good long-term framework to tackle the issue. However, Member States should take the lead in the discussion of how to operationalise this in the short to medium-term, as serious obstacles remain.

    While efforts to strengthen the circular economy and recycling practices will undoubtedly aid the EU, this will be far from sufficient to ensure true strategic autonomy. Recycling CRMs outside of the production process is often economically unviable or downright impossible. The end-of-life recycling rate of silicon metal, germanium and REEs, all crucial in the development of clean energy technologies, remains extremely low, and will thus not solve the EU’s dependence on Chinese resources.

    Diversifying the supply chain of CRMs can partially remedy the shortcomings of recycling and avoid the issues related to domestic production. While this option is promising and should be explored, it has a number of caveats. Exporting these industries to friendly nations abroad (i.e., friend-shoring) will not prevent the inherent risks attached to stretched-out global supply chains. Furthermore, research has highlighted the negative economic consequences related to friend-shoring practices, as well as the practical issues of reconfiguring global supply chains in the short to medium-term. Lastly, the environmental as well as ethical implications of moving mining operations to areas with often poorer environmental/labour standards should not be underestimated.

    The issues related to recycling and friend-shoring show that true security of critical resources can only be attained in combination with an increased domestic supply of CRMs within Europe. Member States must resist the temptation to take the path of least resistance and instead address the issue head on. Many governments are nervous about openly supporting new mining projects given the potential local backlash or time restraints due to long permitting processes. However, the solution remains entirely in their hands as national governments are the ones to actually push for optimising these processes and increase domestic production in Europe. The length of the permit granting procedures must be curtailed so that we see actual progress by the end of this decade. An increase in domestic production and improved predictability of supply can also bring the EU closer towards the additional goal of improving its critical materials stockpile in the long run. 

    Simply put, the EU cannot afford to repeat the same mistake it made on Russian energy imports with critical materials supply. If Europe wants to weave a convincing narrative about strategic autonomy, perhaps it would be best if it worked towards genuinely improving its self-sufficiency in key areas. 

    Dimitar Lilkov Rick Slootweg Energy European Union Green Deal

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Rick Slootweg

    True Strategic Autonomy Requires Improved Domestic Supply 


    17 Mar 2023

  • Brexit European Union Migration
    BTC March Thumbnail Windsor Agreement Northern Ireland Illegal Migration Bill

    Bridge The Channel – The Windsor Framework and the UK’s Illegal Migration Bill

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    16 Mar 2023

  • In a June 2022 interview, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar stated “Somewhere Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems”, when discussing the war in Ukraine. Much could be said in response, for instance reminding the fact that the EU is the biggest donor of development aid globally with over 75 billion Euros yearly, and to underline that India is no stranger to territorial challenges – from China.

    Nevertheless, Jaishankar’s statement should not be overlooked. Despite the EU’s development cooperation, European public interest towards Asia has previously been rather limited to China. For example, India’s border problems with China have received little attention in Europe. The minister was calling for reciprocity.

    India hosted the most recent G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on 1-2 March, covering topics such as green development, climate finance and multilateralism in the 21st century, among others. In the end, the G20 meeting ended without consensus over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Moscow and Beijing refused to endorse the closing statement condemning the war, leaving only 18 signatories.

    Western nations were successful in presenting a united front on the War in Ukraine during the G20 meeting, which became the de facto dominant theme on the sidelines of the summit. At the political level, the war’s frontlines now extend beyond Europe.

    The war in Ukraine has led to a surge in the European interest towards Asia, especially India. Not only for political and foreign policy experts, but also for European businesses and a wide audience for whom it has become clear that events in Asia can have a very rapid and very real impact on European livelihoods.

    The war in Ukraine has revealed doubts about China’s reliability as a source of raw materials and as a starting point for many European supply chains. If there were a conflict or all-out war over Taiwan, independently of whether EU members would participate in possible sanctions or not, global supply chains and the wider global economy would be severely impacted.

    As a result, Europeans are searching for alternative business options, and many eyes are on India, the current chair of the G20. India is aiming for a growth rate of 6.5% in the upcoming year and is managing the digital transition of its economy very successfully. The example of India’s digital revolution may become a model to be potentially applied in Africa. Optimism surrounding the economy, which seems to have disappeared in the EU, at least temporarily, is very much alive in India today – as in many countries of the Global South.

    But Asia is not the only continent where development is speeding up rapidly, despite the challenges. Africa, once considered a lost continent, is enjoying rapid growth, and a new middle class is emerging. China has been investing in Africa intensively for decades and only now is the West waking up. The United States is actively reflecting on its strategies to counter the Chinese surge for raw materials. Unfortunately, EU actors have some catching up to do in this area.

    Beyond Africa, Europeans have viewed Latin America as a natural ally for historical, cultural and linguistic reasons. Unfortunately, this has not led to constantly strengthening relations but rather to complacency, despite the efforts of Spain and Portugal to remind the rest of Europe about the importance of Latin America. Again, China has increased its presence in Latin America massively, while the non-ratification of the EU-Mercosur trade deal is becoming an embarrassment for Europeans.

    Despite positive developments in the Global South, many problems remain. The COVID-19 epidemic took a heavier toll there than in the West, since the Global South had fewer possibilities to mitigate the economic impact by taking on debt, as the West did. Millions of people fell back into poverty or lost their jobs. Measured by sustainable development goals, the planet suffered a setback of a couple of years. Thus, one can see why the economic opportunities offered by China are attractive to many developing nations.

    The EU needs to once again prioritise global trade deals, including the ones currently being negotiated with India, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is evident that Europe cannot repeat the mistakes it made with China on trade with other global players. Global trade deals now carry political importance, which was not always the case some years ago.

    Making the EU a global player is not only about complex trade deals, negotiations over UN resolutions and investments. Increasing the visibility and understanding of political developments in the Global South, and developing a presence and contacts are the starting points of being politically impactful. Individual politicians and organisations can play an important role.

    The challenge for the EU is that globally, Europe is still seen largely through its member states. To counter that, EU member states must coordinate their global actions better. Even if done outside the EU framework, French president Macron’s proposal for a joint visit with chancellor Scholz to China was an example of a more effective approach. However, it was opposed by the German chancellor at that time.

    The EU and its politicians have a long list of challenges; domestic and European-level economic problems, the war in Ukraine and the challenges within its eastern and southern neighbours. Crucial as these issues are, it is increasingly clear that to have that “global role” and to secure European political and economic interests, Europe needs to be globally as active as the US, China and even Russia. And as a result, Europe needs to be able to pick a side – and increasingly to be able to take a position on the World’s problems.

    Tomi Huhtanen European Union Foreign Policy

    Tomi Huhtanen

    The EU’s Interests Today Require Stronger Ties With the Global South


    07 Mar 2023

  • The recent launch of the European Commission’s Green Deal Industrial Strategy was supposed to set the “framework for the transformation of the EU’s industry for the net-zero age”. Unfortunately, it’s now viewed as a panicked reaction to the Biden administrations Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the United States.

    While the American legislation will increase the attractiveness of the US as a “green” investment location – a move which is positive for global efforts to combat climate change – it will not automatically result in a flight of capital and employment across the Atlantic. Rather, there is a real possibility that the hurried implementation of Brussels’ current proposals may, unintentionally, undermine the European Single Market, increase friction between member states and ultimately weaken the Transatlantic economic relationship.

    Politically, the Industrial Strategy proposals cannot be considered in isolation. They are closely linked to a whole array of interlinked proposals regarding Trade Policy, State Aid Rules, the Competitiveness Agenda and Education to name but a few. They also form part of a significantly wider debate about the future direction of the EU itself. In this context, increased protectionism, supporting national champions and more EU-level borrowing represents a more statist, more centralised vision of European integration. A vision which challenges the Single Market underpinnings which have formed the basis of Europe’s decades-long economic expansion.

    Economy European Union Industry Transatlantic

    Mistaking the Wood for the Trees: Five Ways the EU can Deliver a more Competitive Industrial Policy


    13 Feb 2023

  • Defence EU-Russia European Union Leopard Leopard Tanks Security Tanks Ukraine
    Defence Dialogue Leopard Tanks Ukraine Russia War

    Defence Dialogue Episode 20 – Leopard Tanks in Ukraine

    Defence Dialogues

    08 Feb 2023

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    Should TikTok be Banned? – with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

    Brussels Bytes

    25 Jan 2023

  • 2023 Brexit European Union Future of Europe United Kingdom

    Bridge The Channel – Our Predictions For 2023

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    19 Jan 2023

  • datascience ehealth EU Member States European Union Health medicine

    E-Health and Data Science in Medicine with Johnson and Johnson’s Xiaoying Wu and Angel Martin

    Brussels Bytes

    11 Jan 2023

  • Klaus Welle EU Member States European Union

    Interview with EP Secretary General Klaus Welle at EIF22

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    06 Jan 2023

  • Brexit EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy UK United Kingdom

    Bridge the Channel – December 2022

    Bridge the Channel - Multimedia

    20 Dec 2022

  • Loredana Teodorescu EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy gender Gender Equality podcast

    Women in Foreign Policy

    Her and EU

    15 Dec 2022

  • Defence EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy Security

    Defence Dialogue Episode 19 – EU-UK Defence Cooperation

    Defence Dialogues

    13 Dec 2022

  • Digital Economy EU Member States European Union Security
    Brussels Bytes

    The Digital Markets Act with Andreas Schwab, MEP

    Brussels Bytes

    08 Dec 2022

  • War is raging on the European continent. As a result, President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech of 2022 did not follow the typical script of previous addresses. It was not a follow up to the points emphasised by the Commission at the beginning of von der Leyen’s term, and perhaps cleverly so.

    The COVID-19 pandemic, but much more so the war in Ukraine, have changed the EU’s role both regionally and globally. The State of the Union speech was an opportunity to run through Europe’s war-related efforts and re-state the bloc’s support to Ukraine. In the presence of Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine, in Strasbourg and against the backdrop of recent Ukrainian military successes, President von der Leyen had the tools she needed to give a passionate opening to her speech.

    The speech then continued with Ukraine-related topics. Though sustainability was underlined often and a proposal for a hydrogen bank was declared, contrary to previous speeches, the Commission Green Deal was not the speech’s red line. This was likely a good choice, given the ongoing sensitive debate on how to rebalance the Commission’s ambitious green transition goals with the current energy crisis, a crisis which no doubt is the priority for Europeans.

    Although Ukraine was mentioned various times, Ukrainian EU membership status was not. President von der Leyen made specific remarks about aiming to bring Ukraine closer to the Single Market and her own negotiations in Kyiv on further cooperation. These reflect the opinion shared by many that while EU candidate status has been granted, in reality focusing on immediate, concrete steps for integration rather than on the membership process itself will yield better results.

    The State of the Union speech often lists various proposals by the Commission, always with impressive titles but often left wanting in terms of content. Sometimes, those proposals move forward and become a core of the Commission’s policy proposals and EU agenda; other times little happens. Who can recall the “Global Gateway strategy” from last year’s State of the Union speech, for example? While the President referred to it again in her speech, the ambitious proposal from last year has remained limited within the EU toolbox.

    The President proposed the Defence of Democracy Act. The plan, she said, would aim to uncover covert foreign influence and shady funding. This plan will no doubt receive support from EU member states, but can quickly become politically sensitive, depending on how it is implemented and by whom.

    French President Macron’s proposal on a political community received President von der Leyen’s endorsement. Was this a polite gesture for the French or something more substantive? Despite some draft papers circulating EU corridors, the discussion on a political community has not truly taken off at a higher level. Since Ukraine obtained its candidate status with the support of many EU member states, it is highly unlikely that a substantive discussion on the community’s basic modalities will begin in earnest anytime soon.

    But of course, should such a thing happen, most likely an EU Convention of some kind would be needed. The President’s request for the EU convention to begin was received by the European Parliament with enthusiasm. However, those EU member states bearing the brunt of the current extraordinary crisis, will most likely be less enthusiastic. Other touchy topics for the future are the proposals for new fiscal rules. Even if the current rules do not correspond to the current reality, the discussion will be heated between EU member states; and it seems even within the Commission, the vision is not united.

    President Ursula von der Leyen finished by referring to the importance of standing strong with the US and on China, with a clear and welcome message. This ending closed the rhetorical circle, which began with the war in Ukraine and ended with the EU’s position globally.

    Between last year’s State of the Union speech and this year’s, there is an obvious difference. While a year ago, the EU was aspiring to have a global role and weight, it has obtained some of that through the war in Ukraine. The EU has played an important, even unexpected role, and has been able to break some of the taboos which hindered it previously.

    It is a promising start, and the President’s speech played on it. Building on the war in Ukraine and the EU’s role offered the President a possibility which was used. The speech had a more solid structure and was less of a patchwork of different topics and proposals, which it previously was on occasion. And of course, no State of the Union speech would be a true EU SOTU without a human story, which were plenty also this year, from First Lady Zelenska’s visit to the story of two Polish women helping Ukrainian refugees. The latter was also an interesting choice; perhaps a small gesture towards Poland in the sensitive rule of law debate?

    Photo Credits: EPP Group Flickr

    Tomi Huhtanen Crisis Democracy European Union Ukraine

    Tomi Huhtanen

    From Claiming a Global Role for the EU to Defending it – State of the Union 2022


    15 Sep 2022

  • It is increasingly difficult for any organisation to escape the omnipresent “cyber hype”. So, it is not surprising that in recent years a new field of activity has also emerged in the area of diplomacy: Cyberdiplomacy. Under the influence of digital technologies and the possibilities they afford to create virtual spaces and opportunities for interaction, the relationships between states and societies have undergone revolutionary changes; new actors and channels of influence have emerged. This poses radically new challenges to states when designing foreign policy. However, the creation of (desired) images and realities in bi- and multilateral relations has always been an essential task of diplomacy; “virtual spheres” have been and will remain key issues in “classical” diplomacy, too. But with the revolutionary development of the internet, new possibilities are emerging almost every day, with the emergence of “computer-generated horizons of meaning”[1] and their own dimensions of space and time. The major question is how to shape these politically.

    Currently, the foundations of a future global cyber society are being laid. Even if we, at the moment, are rather witnessing a “territorialisation”[2], or even “fragmentation” of the internet. In the future, we might expect shifting borders, changing and overlapping spaces, and the “occupation” of virtual spheres. State institutions and regulations have a significant, though by no means exclusive, influence on what this “virtual territory” will look like. Taking such virtual realities into account in the formulation of political goals and the development and use of new political communication instruments is an essential part of the field of cyber diplomacy.

    Though there are comprehensive concepts in this field – such as the European Union’s Cybersecurity Strategy (EUCSS) in December 2020 – defence measures against threats from the cyberspace are only slowly complemented by more preactive approaches. Due to this historical development, the terms “cyber security and cyber diplomacy” were closely linked for a long time or were even understood as identical. But the much-discussed cybersecurity is just one dimension of a modern understanding of cyber diplomacy. Only in recent years have both dimensions become detached from each other to incorporate further aspects.

    It is therefore worthwhile to look more closely at areas beyond the field of cybersecurity. The complex confrontation with the “cyber superpowers”, such as the People’s Republic of China or Russia, offers an interesting “learning and action space” and can contribute to the further development of European cyber diplomacy. The EU increasingly wants to include this policy field in its regulatory competence and take on a global pioneering role.

    Two aspects examined more closely here should give an impression of the diversity of challenges and possible instruments: first, the creation and regulation of a global cyberspace; and second, the creation of virtual public spheres abroad.

    Assuming the “three digital empires”[3] – the USA, the PR China and the EU – the battle for standards and rules in cyberspace has not yet been decided. The EU is (still) very much committed to the paradigm of establishing a multilateral, rule-based order in the cyberspace. Unfortunately, both in the real and virtual world order, this development points to further fragmentation and systemic rivalry, with competing and fundamentally incompatible ideas of order. The bitter disputes over future internet standards, the creation of national cyberspaces in Russia and China, but also the transatlantic conflicts over the protection of privacy signal major fault lines in the cyberspace. How one should actively counter acts of aggression in hybrid conflicts is among the unresolved questions in international law and diplomacy. In the field of global finance and with the introduction of digital currencies and crypto products, established financial systems are coming under massive pressure, while traditional regulatory mechanisms can hardly keep up effectively.

    In dealing with the People’s Republic of China, the largest individual challenging actor in the field of cyber diplomacy, the 2000s were associated with great hopes for social change and political opening. The internet was supposed to play a central role in bringing new ideas to the country and developing alternative forms of organisation. However, the “counter-revolution” by the Communist Party was put in place within a few years. The People’s Republic has developed its own impressive cyber diplomacy strategy and combined it systematically with other forms of influence, such as investment or military cooperation. Here, competition with the West takes place intensively in “third markets”. Unfiltered direct communication with the Chinese public via social media has come to a near standstill; one can no longer speak of reciprocity in this field. From a European point of view, therefore, influence must be exerted on two levels: Western democracies must actively engage in shaping the discourse in virtual public spaces both in their home countries and abroad; the hitherto rather passive fight against disinformation is not sufficient. And in the area of human rights or market access opportunities, it remains a thankless but compelling task to press Chinese policymakers to enable unfiltered channels of communication into Chinese society.    

    Cyber diplomacy has become a central component of interstate action because spaces and forms of interaction have changed dramatically. The constantly intensifying systemic competition between authoritarian and liberal models of society is, unsurprisingly, taking place with increasing intensity in these virtual spaces. And the fate of an open, liberal order will essentially be decided there. European cyber diplomacy has to make a decisive contribution to the outcome of this conflict.

    [1] See Clemens Apprich, Technotopia: A Media Genealogy of Net Cultures (Media Philosophy), 2017

    [2] See Daniel Lambach, The Territorialization of Cyberspace, International Studies Review, Volume 22, Issue 3, September 2020, Pages 482–506, https://doi.org/10.1093/isr/viz022

    [3] See Susan Ariel Aaronson & Patrick Leblond, 2018. “Another Digital Divide: The Rise of Data Realms and its Implications for the WTO,” Journal of International Economic Law, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(2), pages 245-272, https://ideas.repec.org/a/oup/jieclw


    Peter Hefele Digital European Union Security

    Peter Hefele

    Cyber Diplomacy: a Key Field for European Diplomacy


    05 Jul 2022

  • Listen to the perspectives of these leaders from 3 very different EU member states:

    – François-Xavier Bellamy, EPP Group MEP (Les Republicains)

    – Markéta Pekarová Adamová, Chairwoman of TOP 09 (Czechia)

    – Tasos Chatzivasileiou, Nea Demokratia MP (Greece)

    European People's Party European Union

    Views from the Member States – EPP Rotterdam

    Multimedia - Other videos

    02 Jun 2022

  • Don’t miss the answer given during the EPP Congress in Rotterdam by the following European leaders:

    – Jyrki Katainen, former EU Commissioner (Finland)

    – Antti Petteri Orpo, Chairman, National Coalition Party, Finland

    – Alexander Stubb, former Primer Minister of Finland and Director of the School of Transnational Governance

    – David Lega, EPP Group MEP (Sweden)

    European People's Party European Union NATO

    Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO

    Multimedia - Other videos

    02 Jun 2022

  • Don’t miss the answer given during the EPP Congress in Rotterdam by the following European leaders:

    – Anna Michelle Asimakopoulou, EPP Group MEP (Nea Demokratia)

    – Maria da Graça Carvalho, EPP Group MEP (PSD Portugal)

    – Vladimir Milov, Russian opposition leader

    – Andrius Kubilius, EPP Group MEP (Lithuania)

    – Stelios Kympouropoulos, EPP Group MEP (Greece)

    – Tomáš Zdechovský, EPP Group MEP (Czechia)

    European People's Party European Union

    What challenges do you see for the EU in the years to come?

    Multimedia - Other videos

    02 Jun 2022

  • Don’t miss the answer given during the EPP Congress in Rotterdam by the following European leaders:

    – Seán Kelly, EPP Group MEP (Fine Gael)

    – Barry Ward, Fine Gael Senator (Ireland)

    – Vladimír Bilčík, EPP Group MEP (SPOLU – občianska demokracia)

    – Ivan Štefanec, EPP Group MEP (Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie, Slovakia)

    – Lukas Mandl, EPP Group MEP (Österreichische Volkspartei)

    – Alexander Stubb, former Primer Minister of Finland and Director of the School of Transnational Governance

    – David McAllister, EPP Group MEP (CDU Deutschlands)

    – Paulo Rangel, EPP VP and EPP Group MEP (PSD Portugal)

    European People's Party European Union Ukraine

    What would be your message to Ukraine?

    Multimedia - Other videos - Ukraine

    02 Jun 2022

  • Don’t miss the answer given during the EPP Congress in Rotterdam by the following European leaders:

    – Andreas Schwab, EPP Group MEP, Chair – EEA/EFTA and the North (CDU)

    – Antonio Tajani, EPP VP and EPP Group MEP, Chair Constitutional Affairs (Forza Italia)

    – Averof Neofytou, President of the Democratic Rally (Cyprus)

    – Alberto Barachini, Italian Senator, Forza Italia

    – Arnaud Danjean, EPP Group MEP (Les Republicains)

    – Alexander Stubb, former Primer Minister of Finland and Director of the School of Transnational Governance

    – Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

    – Phil Hogan, former EU Commissioner (Ireland)

    European People's Party European Union

    What should be the focus of a post-crisis EU?

    Multimedia - Other videos

    02 Jun 2022

  • Margaritis Schinas Eleftheria Katsi European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Margaritis Schinas, EU Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life and VP

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Eleftheria Katsi Stella Kyriakides European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Roberta Metsola Theo Larue European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Eleftheria Katsi Kyriakos Mitsotakis European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister of Greece

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Theo Larue Mairead McGuinness European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Mairead McGuinness, EU Commissioner

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Theo Larue Valdis Dombrovskis European People's Party European Union

    Interview with Valdis Dombrovskis, EU Commissioner for Trade and VP

    Multimedia - Other videos

    01 Jun 2022

  • Roberta Metsola Federico Ottavio Reho European People's Party European Union

    EPP Congress Panel 2 Day 2 – A European Vision of Democracy

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    01 Jun 2022

  • Streaming of our 3 panels of the second day of our sideline event in Rotterdam:

    1) Future Prospects for EU Migration and Refugee Policy Moderator: Vit Novotný, Senior Research Officer, Martens Centre Discussants: – Tasos Chatzivasileiou, MP, New Democracy (EPP), Greece, Secretary of the Standing Committee of National Defense and Foreign Affairs – Rasa Juknevičienė, MEP, TS-LKD, Lithuania

    2) A European Vision of Democracy Moderator: Federico Ottavio Reho, Senior Research Officer and Strategic Coordinator, Martens Centre Discussant: Roberta Metsola, President, European Parliament

    3) European Ambitions and Geopolitical Realities Moderator: Tomi Huhtanen, Executive Director, Martens Centre Discussants: – David McAllister, MEP, CDU, Germany, Vice-President, EPP – Frances Fitzgerald, MEP, Fine Gael, Ireland

    Vít Novotný Roberta Metsola Federico Ottavio Reho Tomi Huhtanen France Fitzgerald European People's Party European Union Migration

    EPP Congress – Day 2 Streaming

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    01 Jun 2022

  • Click the image to download

    Welcome to the Migration Update May 2022. This curated news selection brings together many of the most important developments in the migration policy area over the last month, including recent ones tied to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

    The purpose of these news summaries is to provide a factual base for migration debates within the European centre-right. Vít Novotný is responsible for the selection of information items from the media, governments and social media. The value of these summaries is in the categorisation of information items and in listing those items that readers might have missed. Facts and opinions are conveyed as they are reported. Original comments are kept to a minimum.

    These news summaries are not subject to a formal editorial process. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Vít Novotný at vn@martenscentre.eu

    Vít Novotný EU Member States EU-Russia European Union Migration Ukraine

    Migration Update May 2022

    Migration Update

    31 May 2022

  • Streaming of the 3 first panels of our Sideline Event:

    1) Christian Democracy and the Centre-Right Moderator: André Poortman, Researcher, CDA Research Institute Discussants: – Tom Berendsen, MEP, EPP Group (CDA) – Arjen Siegmann, Professor of Valuable Work and Christian-Social Thinking, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Research Associate, CDAbResearch Institute

    2) European Economic Forecast: Priorities for the Union’s Economy Moderator: Eoin Drea, Senior Research Officer, Martens Centre Discussants: – Siegfried Mureşan, MEP, PNL, Romania, Vice-President EPP – Luděk Niedermayer, MEP, TOP-09, Czechia

    3) A Green New Future: Balancing Energy Security, Sustainability, and Social Justice Moderator: Peter Hefele, Policy Director, Martens Centre Discussant: Jessica Polfjärd, MEP, Moderaterna, Sweden

    Arjen Siegmann Siegfried Mureşan Eoin Drea Peter Hefele European People's Party European Union

    EPP Congress – Day 1 Morning Streaming

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    31 May 2022

  • Click the image to download

    Welcome to the Migration Update April 2022. This curated news selection brings together many of the most important developments in the migration policy area over the last month, including recent ones tied to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

    The purpose of these news summaries is to provide a factual base for migration debates within the European centre-right. Vít Novotný is responsible for the selection of information items from the media, governments and social media. The value of these summaries is in the categorisation of information items and in listing those items that readers might have missed. Facts and opinions are conveyed as they are reported. Original comments are kept to a minimum. Thanks go to Davide Marcantoni for writing up the ECtHR court case for the judicial observatory.

    These news summaries are not subject to a formal editorial process. Should you have any questions or comments, please contact Vít Novotný at vn@martenscentre.eu

    Vít Novotný Crisis EU-Russia European Union Migration Ukraine

    Migration Update April 2022

    Migration Update

    30 Apr 2022

  • Federico Ottavio Reho European Union Values

    Protecting the EU’s Fundamental Values

    Europe out Loud

    19 Apr 2022

  • The author is a WMCES Visiting Fellow and the former Polish Secretary of State in the Office of the Committee for European Integration, who was involved in Poland’s accession to the EU.

    On 11 March 2022, EU leaders met informally in Versailles to discuss the Russian war against Ukraine. The question of how to address Ukraine’s bid for EU membership remained unanswered. Heads of states simply noted that the Commission should prepare an opinion on this request, the so-called “Avis”, which is part of the formal procedure. It was not a visionary response, but a technocratic one. How can the Commission assess whether Ukraine is ready for membership while the country struggles against Russian invasion? There is a need for a considered approach that would guide the EU and Ukraine into a joint post-war era.

    In rather dramatic circumstances, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application for Ukrainian membership of the European Union, a plea to determine his country’s future. No one would reasonably expect that membership could be granted immediately, but in such atrocious times, it is necessary to respond credibly. There were calls, also among EPP leaders, to grant Ukraine candidate status. As the summit approached, some diplomats felt such a move would be low-risk, as it is never clear whether a candidate will actually eventually become a member. But this argument can be reversed, too. It does not seem entirely honest to offer candidate status on the assumption that it may not necessarily lead to membership. After the unequivocal declaration of the European Commission and the clear position of the European Parliament, some countries expected that the Council would adopt a similar stance in Versailles. In this respect, the Versailles Declaration fell short of their expectations. It does not create a fast-track procedure or promise candidate status to Ukraine; however, it does include some new elements.

    EU leaders unanimously affirm that “Ukraine belongs to our European family”. This goes a few inches further than the wording of the EU-Ukraine summit last October. The Versailles Declaration notes that “the Council acted swiftly and invited the Commission to deliver its opinion on this request in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties”. Now, any next step depends on a competent, but dry and technocratic analysis done by the Commission. Even without a clearer commitment on the candidate status, asking the Commission to prepare the Avis means that the discussion on Ukraine’s eligibility to become an EU member is thus over.

    However, the follow-up to the political response to Ukraine’s application should respect all the accession process’ requirements. Any decision must also be consistent with the approach taken by the EU towards other candidates such as those of the Western Balkans, or others countries, like Georgia or Moldova.

    The process of preparing a country for accession is complex and time-consuming. Simply asking the Commission to prepare an opinion on Ukraine’s application, the aforementioned Avis, is a bit confusing at this stage. How can the Commission reasonably assess whether Ukraine is capable of applying the acquis communautaire, while Russian bombs are dropping on the very institutions which would be applying EU regulations? Could one expect to receive quickly trustworthy answers to the thousands of questions in the typical questionnaire, which is soon going to be used by the Commission for this purpose? Is it possible to judge whether the Ukrainian administration is mature and can operate stably, as EU members expect? Drafting now an typical Avis on Ukraine’s membership application following standard methodology, through a detailed review of all the chapters of the acquis, would probably lead to unconvincing conclusions, as Ukraine is not currently in the position to deliver all the detailed information required.

    Therefore, I recommend a different approach, The preparation of the Avis should be divided into four distinct phases; namely, assessment whether Ukraine meets criteria to obtain candidate status, guidance towards reconstruction, assistance with implementation of the acquis, and final assessment.

    During the first phase, on the basis of relatively straightforward assessment of the Ukrainian economy, legal system and administration structures and intentions of the Ukrainian Government described in the answers to the first short questionnaire, the Commission should be able to propose to the EU Member States to decide, whether, under the condition that as they are, Ukraine can be granted candidate status for EU membership.

    Whenever the war ends, Ukraine will need major reconstruction. The EU should prepare to offer massive support, clearly linking this support to Ukrainian membership aspirations. It is necessary to focus on rebuilding Ukraine with the objective of integrating it with the EU. This part should therefore serve as a very solid guidance for any reconstruction effort focused on path towards the EU, indicating what should be done beyond the existing Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. For several years, there has been an intense dialogue between the EU and Ukraine to bring the Ukrainian legal framework closer to the acquis communautaire; since 2014, significant progress has been made in this respect. Thus, the Commission, and in particular DG NEAR (including the European Commission Support Group for Ukraine – SGUA – and the EU Advisory Mission for civilian security sector reform – EUAM) has a fairly good idea of ​​Ukrainian efforts so far. But since 24 February this year, the situation has changed dramatically. Gradual adaptations based on “best efforts” principles and soft obligations with no clear deadlines will no longer be sufficient. Therefore, this part of the fully fledged Avis should focus on the required transformation and improvement of economy and trade, services and labour markets, environmental and energy standards, as well as administrative capacities, an impartial judiciary, and the rule of law. These reconstruction programmes could be arranged – as typical Avis – according to the chapters of the acquis communautaire and the necessary adaptations, bringing the country closer to the EU.

    The next phase of the Avis should begin at a certain stage of the implementation of the reconstruction programme, when it will be possible to assess in detail the progress made towards adopting the EU’s legal framework. Financing reconstruction programmes can be converted to pre-accession facility with even clearer focus on integration process. In the meantime, the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, could be significantly enhanced. Additional rights for Ukrainian entities and citizens could be given, in step with the obligations assumed by Ukraine. For example: a customs union between the EU and Ukraine could be established, or the inclusion of Ukraine within the Emissions Trading System to avoid that the country is negatively affected by the proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism – CBAM.

    Solid progress in implementing these programmes and transforming Ukraine’s economy and legal system would enable the writing of final conclusions of the Avis. Only then would it be possible to convincingly answer the question of whether Ukraine meets membership criteria, in general terms and in practical details. Such a conclusions would allow the EU to take a final decision on accession negotiations.

    Jarosław Pietras Enlargement European Union Ukraine

    Jarosław Pietras

    Ukraine’s Accession Cannot Happen Overnight, but it Deserves Due Consideration

    Blog - Ukraine

    12 Apr 2022

  • Peter Hefele Milan Nic Central and Eastern Europe Christian Democracy Democracy European Union

    Hungarian Parliamentary Elections: Democratic Backsliding or Democratic Revival?

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    07 Apr 2022

  • After Euromajdan, the feeling of “Ukraine fatigue” slowly creeped across the EU over the years, as the plight of the Ukrainians became increasingly less newsworthy. Today, there is growing risk that a similar fatigue will re-emerge.

    That cannot happen; that must not be allowed to happen. Not now. Not after the daily sacrifices made by millions of Ukrainians in defense of fundamental European values.

    After Ukrainian citizens clearly chose a pro-European path in 2014, a major window of opportunity opened for Ukraine. Love of democracy was not enough, the country needed systemic reforms in nearly all areas, and the EU readily provided expertise and financial aid. However, one thing that Western leaders did overlook was Putin’s actions in Crimea.

    The illegal Russian occupation of the peninsula was the most serious breach of European sovereignty since the Second World War; unsurprisingly, more breaches were to follow. European leaders condemned Russian actions and imposed sanctions. However, this proved not to be a fundamental game-changer in EU-Russia relations. This led to the partial Russian occupation of Donbas.

    Again, Western reactions were rather mild. Quickly enough, the West began referring to the situation in Donbas as “frozen” and treating it as a civil conflict, instead of calling out Russia and uniting behind a strong response to this violation of international law.

    In a similar fashion, the initial support and excitement over reforms also gave place to annoyance and fatigue in the West – that felt Ukraine was not reforming fast enough. Despite these feelings, the number of reforms post-Majdan was unprecedented, with the Martens Centre offering its own contribution through the #UkraineReforms project. True, Ukraine’s reform path was still long, but only a few years after the Revolution of Dignity, the prospect of EU membership began to fade. This trend reached a point where there was no clear refence to it in the joint declarations which followed Eastern Partnership Summits. Ukraine started to be pushed down the EU’s list of priorities.

    Today, a month after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the same feeling of fatigue is creeping in. After the unity behind the first few rounds of sanctions, cracks are starting to appear.  While Eastern member states like Poland and Lithuania want the EU to maintain the pressure on Moscow by banning energy imports from Russia, others such as Germany are signaling their lack of willingness to go further, and instead review the effect of the sanctions imposed so far. This is exactly what Putin wants.

    Decisiveness cannot give place to hesitation. The EU’s dependance on Russian oil and gas could have been scaled back in 2014; instead, Russian gas kept flowing into Europe. This cannot continue to happen in light of Putin’s war on Ukraine.

    Energy is only one of the many aspects affected by the war, of course. The repercussions are multiple. From food supply, to trade, to finance, all parts of the global system are disrupted by war. In other words, by helping Ukraine, the West would be helping itself.

    Most see Russia’s attack on Ukraine as something that happened on 24 February. But for Ukrainians, the attack has been ongoing for 8 years. Besides brutal military action, Ukraine must also fight Russian propaganda, which permeates not only Russian society, but European society as well. Since 2014, Russian informational influences in the occupied territories have been primarily aimed at discrediting Ukraine as a state. Additionally, the Kremlin has been strengthening ties and financing many far-right parties in Europe, who have been promoting the Russian narrative among EU citizens.

    In less than four weeks of war, Russia has fired more than a thousand missiles at Ukraine and reduced entire Ukrainian cities to rubble. More than 10 million people left their homes, 3 million of which are refugees in the EU. If Western leaders maintain their current cautious approach towards Russian aggression, the world will witness a genocide of the Ukrainian people.

    There cannot be fatigue in the face of violence. There cannot be hesitation in punishing the perpetrator. The West should do all it can to stop Russia and hold it accountable. This includes providing military, financial, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, while continuing to impose stricter sanctions on Russia.

    It is equally important not to link sanctions to a peace agreement. Having failed in taking Kyiv, Russia might push for a peace agreement in the style of Minsk II to disengage the West and lift sanctions, but the West must not fall into that trap. A peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia with unrealistic demands will not save Ukraine, but only delay its disintegration. Prematurely lifting sanctions will not deter Putin, but will only encourage him to go further. This war cannot be normalised and dismissed as “frozen” in the near future.

    Ending this horrendous and unjustified war is the immediate priority, but once it is over, many other issues will need to be faced. At that moment, a serious and concrete membership perspective in the EU must be offered to Ukraine. 40 million people are currently making the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. It would be unacceptable to look them in the eyes and say, “Sorry, you are not Europeans now”.

    Anna Nalyvayko Democracy EU-Russia European Union Ukraine

    Anna Nalyvayko

    Normalising Ukraine’s Tragedy Would be Europe’s Gravest Mistake

    Blog - Ukraine

    24 Mar 2022

  • In a recent EU emergency summit concerning Russian aggression in Ukraine, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, urged European leaders to re-think their Golden Passport schemes. She later tweeted:

    “The Kremlin has long thought it could buy its way into Europe. It is time to close any loopholes, end the dangerous phenomenon of golden passports that provide a backdoor to European citizenship and ensure that Russian money does not become as critical as Russian gas. At the end of the day, this is how we achieve our strategic autonomy.”

    There is much truth in this. The sale of “golden passports” has proven to be lucrative. Some EU member states have opted for similar “residence by investment” schemes – also known as “golden visa” programmes. Similar schemes are on offer in over 19 member states.

    These programmes do not come without their fair share of controversy. The European Parliament has frequently condemned such schemes for their apparent lack of transparency, which has “negative consequences in other member states, eroding mutual trust and undermining common values.”

    EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders also highlighted the grave risks of such schemes. He eloquently described them as a “fast-track entrance for criminals.”

    Member states operating such schemes argue that proper checks are made on all applicants, and successful individuals have injected much-needed expertise and talent into the economy. The truth is far less prosaic – these programmes provide a reliable and regular source of income. However, as various journalistic investigations have demonstrated, the downside to this scheme is that they often attract the wrong sort of people and the worst kind of easy money.

    Cyprus had to cancel its scheme after it was revealed that high-ranking government officials were aiding fictional Chinese executives with criminal records in getting a Cypriot passport. Probes into this scheme led to the revocation of citizenship of 23 nationals and six of their family members. The vast majority of the 6,779 new citizens were Russian.

    A joint investigation led by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation also uncovered some dangerous loopholes in Malta’s IIP programme. It found that prospective citizens could spend a few days in Malta fulfilling basic requirements and getting their citizenship. A recent report in The Daily Telegraph revealed some concerns at the EU level. The Maltese Government vehemently denies that there is anything to be concerned about. Nonetheless, on 2 March 2022, the same government announced that it is suspending the scheme for Russian and Belarusian citizens, citing difficulties in conducting due diligence checks.

    The illegal Russian aggression in Ukraine should prompt us to look at such schemes more critically.

    Schemes in EU member states should not enable individuals who want to undermine the security of the Union to bypass regular channels to obtain easy entry into the EU. This Trojan horse of policies promises easy money but can prove damaging in many other respects.

    In addition, the EU must strongly reflect on how it interprets citizenship. The Treaty of Maastricht provides that all citizens of member states are automatically granted EU citizenship. The Treaty of Amsterdam confirms the compatibility of national citizenship with EU citizenship. The latter grants individuals the right of freedom of movement and residence throughout the EU and the ability to vote in European and local elections. In essence, citizenship implies an element of mutual trust, a sense of belonging and shared common interests. An understanding of rights and obligations underpins these.

    Given this, we must question whether the de facto sale of citizenship is compatible with the values that EU citizenship seeks to foster and promote.

    The war waged by Russia in Ukraine has demonstrated, once again, the brutality and cynicism of authoritarian regimes. That their close allies and cronies should be able to buy their way into the economic, political and social heart of Europe is something which the EU and its member states must resist rather than facilitate.

    André P. Debattista EU Member States EU-Russia European Union Ukraine

    André P. Debattista

    Scrapping Golden Passports

    Blog - Ukraine

    08 Mar 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

  • What are some significant memories you have of cooperating with Chancellor Angela Merkel from your time in office? What will be her main legacy for Europe?

    Mikuláš Dzurinda, former Prime Minister of Slovakia: Angela Merkel has shaped German and European politics for 16 years. She has led Germany and the EU through three serious crises: the financial crisis in 2008, unprecedented immigration flows into Europe in 2015, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ongoing. She has processed Brexit, Trump’s manners, and Viktor Orbán’s provocations. In the face of all these challenges, the EU remains the best place to live; it is a community, attractive not only to people in the European neighbourhood but also from other continents. Some Prime Ministers rule, while others serve; Chancellor Merkel is a great example of committed service to Germany and a reunited Europe. Saying this, I realise that the EU is currently experiencing some internal division, and needs fresh impetus and vision for its common future direction.

    Antonis Samaras, former Prime Minister of Greece: She has sharp political instincts. She is a good listener, a skillful coalition builder, and has the courage to go, on occasion, “against the current”. She knows when to push, when to be restrained, and when to compromise. She is a talented tactician, and understands much more than she lets others believe. She is very devoted to what she is doing, flexible in the means to accomplish her goals, and very pleasant on a personal level.

    She led Europe over 16 years of turmoil and pulled Europe out of successive crises. She faced every challenge when building the necessary coalitions to move forward. Sometimes that was sufficient to solve the underlying problem. In other instances, however, coalition building was not enough. A more “decisive” policy was needed…

    In such instances, a leader should distinguish between being “decisive” and being “divisive”. Between saving the moment or dealing with the problem at hand. Between being an administrator or being a true leader…

    Just recently, Chancellor Merkel admitted in an interview that she had been very strict with Greece. In November 2012, she committed to cut Greek debt as the nation achieved its goals. Two years later, all parties involved in monitoring Greece publicly announced that the country was, for the first time, on track, even ahead of the Stabilisation Programme! Yet, Greece never got the debt relief promised.

    Soon after the whole process was derailed, Greece fell into turmoil again. A new rescue programme was required; Greece lost, our partners lost, everybody lost. Regarding Greece, I am afraid the Chancellor was not just “strict”. “Unfair” is probably the right word in our case…

    Many difficult European agreements were reached thanks to Chancellor Merkel’s mediation and negotiating skills. How will the German elections affect European politics and the future development of the EU?

    Mikuláš Dzurinda: It is true that many difficult European agreements wouldn’t have been reached without the wise, patient, perceptive, and centralised approach of Chancellor Merkel. If Mrs. Merkel decided to start lecturing, I would recommend naming her course: ‘How to reach a compromise…’.

    The pandemic crisis has revealed yet another skill of Angela Merkel: an ability to recognise true danger and immediately make small sacrifices to prevent unimaginable damage from occurring. I am thinking, for example, about when we began hearing calls from the Mediterranean countries, led by Italy, to approve – for the first time in the history of the EU – the introduction of common European bonds as a tool for economic recovery after the pandemic. For the first time, the EU will share its financial commitments.

    Antonis Samaras: She sailed safely through the problems of her epoch, both for Germany and for Europe. But History never ends. Now Germany has to prove its leadership in Europe, and the EU has to prove its relevance and gravity in world politics. The EU cannot survive without guaranteeing its borders vis-a-vis its neighbours, without improving its competitiveness vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and without proving itself as a “world player”, both in terms of so-called “soft power”, as well as in terms of hard power.

    Our adversaries misinterpret our ideals as weaknesses! We must prove them wrong! We have to prove to our citizens and to the rest of the world, that freedom, democracy, social justice and economic efficiency – all ideals and priorities that define our united Europe, that have brought us together – are not the “shortcomings” of the Old World; they are the universal tenets for the future of the globe.

    I am afraid that the German elections have left the country more divided and hesitant to lead than ever before. Our German friends have to overcome their deep divisions. And all of us have to overcome European hesitancy to pave the way and lead.

    Which areas of EU policy will need a strong and decisive Germany going forward?

    Mikuláš Dzurinda: Germany’s involvement would be welcomed and needed in three areas, which are crucial for the future of EU: foreign policy (changing decision-making from unanimity to majority voting), defence (building common European defence forces and capabilities as an equal pillar to NATO), and in the area of environmental sustainability (to find an optimal symbiosis between climate protection on the one hand and the needs of industry or transport on the other). In all these areas we need to adopt courageous decisions, which will have a significant impact not only on public finances but also on the emotions and mood of EU citizens. Without brave and courageous German leadership, these necessary changes may be impossible to reach.

    Antonis Samaras: Securing EU borders from illegal migrant flows, which are often instrumentalised by rogue states and human trafficking gangs; otherwise, our social cohesion will disintegrate. Securing the supply of low-cost energy accessible to all; otherwise, we will lose more ground in world competition. A new Stability and Growth Pact, so that all EU members will be able to adjust to the post-COVID era; otherwise, we risk seeing deep divisions in our Union. And defending our societies from the devastation of the so-called “cancel culture” or “woke culture”; otherwise, the European ideas that define who we are will be seriously undermined.

    All EU countries are responsible in keeping the EU united and the “European project” on track. Bigger countries are even more responsible. And that holds for Germany of course.

    Viktória Jančošeková EU Member States European Union Leadership

    Vital Questions on Chancellor Merkel’s Legacy

    Other News

    07 Dec 2021

  • Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism has been one of the most affected sectors at both the European and the global level. According to the recent annual Economic Trends Report conducted by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism is the sector that saw the biggest economic collapse last year. In Europe, travel and tourism GDP declined by 51.4% in 2020, while domestic spending declined by 48.4%, and international spending fell at a sharper rate of 63.8%. Travel and tourism employment fell by 9.3%, equating to a loss of 3.6 million jobs. Vaccines offered the prospect of a sunrise, but recent restrictions to curb rising cases and Omicron variant concerns are once again provoking losses for the tourism industry.

    However, the pandemic has also offered a unique opportunity for change, providing a chance for tourism industry stakeholders and popular destinations to reassess their priorities and create a transformative and regenerative vision for the sector.

    The climate emergency accelerated the need for the implementation of sustainable tourism practices. As part of the road to recovery for the tourism industry, it is fundamental to foster green investments for protected areas, enabling the development of a more sustainable and inclusive tourism sector. However, there is still a long way to go. Many tourism destinations continue to struggle, particularly those that rely on long-haul tourism or business travel.

    Tourism is the economic sector with the most significant potential to generate future growth and employment in the EU. It is important to recognise the industry’s crucial role for Europe’s economy; the EU should take the lead in this regard. The tourism industry needs to be appropriately included in the implementation of Member States’ recovery plans with long-term strategies in order to make the tourism ecosystem more green, digital, and resilient.

    People’s willingness to embrace more responsible and sustainable practices when travelling is a critical factor. The European Travel Commission published a handbook on encouraging sustainable tourism practices. It shows that it is necessary to look at demand-and supply-side trends, and determine what people demand to incentivise changes. For example, a preference for more sustainable transport choices can be noticed. One of the handbook’s studies shows that 73% of European travellers agree it is essential for them to support local SMEs. Younger age groups tend to privilege greener practices when they travel. 

    In this regard, sustainability-driven tourism policymaking at European level is essential to help decision-makers. At national level, examples of good practices are the “Copenhagen’s ‘Tourism for Good’ Strategy”, a long-term ambition for Greater Copenhagen, and the “Astypalea project” in Greece, a pilot project in collaboration between the Greek government and the Volkswagen Group for sustainable mobility and energy supply on the island of Astypalea.

    These projects demonstrate that tourism is a driver of positive change, but that tourism is not the goal in and of itself. It contributes positively to society, building better destinations for locals and visitors. However, it is crucial to adopt a holistic and integrated approach, ensuring that national tourism policy creates the necessary fiscal and legislative framework to implement truly sustainable tourism practices. Transport and infrastructure are areas in which the pressure exerted by visitors can have a significant impact on the destination, and where tourism reform can positively impact the quality of life of locals.

    Many European cities, such as Zurich, Oslo, Stockholm, and Frankfurt, are already widely investing in improving public transport, electric and low-emission vehicles, and cycling routes. Nevertheless, additional practical solutions such as educating travellers about their behaviour as tourists could be useful. This would help make people more aware about the impact of their actions on their destinations, for example underlining the fact that it is fundamental to prioritise small, local businesses while travelling. With regard to leisure activities, it is relevant to promote outdoor experiences in nature, eco-friendly accommodation, and “remote escapes” in rural destinations, thus preventing the phenomenon of “overtourism” from taking over again.

    Moreover, frameworks such as the European Commission’s European Tourism Indicators System for sustainable destination management can help to monitor these actions and report progress in tourism sustainability. 

    Profits from the recovery of tourism will definitively contribute to shape a type of European economic growth better adapted to climate change. A new year is coming, but the path towards the sustainable recovery of European tourism has only just begun.

    Irene Paolinelli Economy European Union Sustainability

    Irene Paolinelli

    The Future of European Tourism


    07 Dec 2021

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    Women and the Future of EU

    Her and EU

    16 Nov 2021

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  • The State of the Union Address remains the most important annual statement by the European Commission. Yet, despite being broadcast on all the national television stations of Europe, it fails to generate the same level of enthusiasm (and newspaper column inches) as its equivalent speeches in the United States and Russia.

    Its theme – “Strengthening the soul of our Union” – is reminiscent of the nation-building rhetoric popular in the mid-19th century. Ursula von der Leyen identifies shared common values such as democracy, the rule of law, the safeguarding of the free and independent media, and the right to live in a society free from corruption. She draws parallels between past and present.

    She cites Robert Schuman’s vision of a European “soul”, “ideal”, and “political will to serve the ideal” and argues that this has been fulfilled in the bloc’s recent response to the pandemic. In other words, she presents the European Union not necessarily as something innovative and new, but as the embodiment of universal values which were always present in the continent.

    Such rhetoric makes for a fascinating academic analysis, yet it achieves little if not accompanied by tangible actions.

    Some initiatives are likely to generate some enthusiasm for Europe. Citing Jacques Delors, “How can we ever build Europe if young people do not see it as a collective project and a vision of their own future?”, von der Leyen announced the 2022 Year of European Youth.

    In addition, the Erasmus-style ALMA scheme will allow young people from member states of the EU to find short-term work placements in other EU member states. Its aim is twofold: providing some respite to unemployed youth and allowing young people to build a network of connections across the bloc. In other words, it aims to foster a greater feeling of being European.

    In this regard, the Conference on the Future of Europe also aims to encourage a deliberative and participative approach to Europe. Here, the President of the EU Commission took a more cautious approach. She expressed her hope that youths would lead the debate and committed the Commission to follow up on what the Conference agreed.

    It is doubtful that these measures will be enough, or whether they should be a priority given the current situation.

    The EU is emerging stronger from the pandemic. Despite some hitches at the onset of the pandemic, the vaccine rollout has been broadly successful. Moreover, the President of the EU Commission rightly recognised the geopolitical significance of vaccines, the necessity to cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic, and the need for solidarity within Europe. Indeed, the post-pandemic reconstruction can be a practical exercise in solidarity-building and, indirectly, in identifying this mythical “soul” of Europe.

    Nonetheless, the situation is both an uphill struggle and an opportunity that could easily go unexploited. According to the Spring 2021 Eurobarometer survey, 33% of respondents knew of the EU measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic; 52% of those were not satisfied with the measures taken so far. More encouragingly, while 57% of respondents declared themselves unhappy with the current state of solidarity within the EU, 69% agreed that the EU requires more competencies to deal with crises such as the pandemic.

    There are other measures announced in this speech where consensus will be harder to achieve. For example, the much-touted Green Deal will involve considerable infrastructural investment and will undoubtedly lead to an increase in energy prices. Attempts to increase competencies in taxation issues will be vehemently opposed by some member states. Debates on the Future of Europe need to be broader and more realistic in their aims.

    Perhaps, what Europe needs at the moment is less “soul” and more realism. The debates about the future of Europe tend to be theoretical and abstract. Whether there is “more Europe” or “less Europe” may mean very little in situations of mass unemployment and higher energy prices. Moreover, though a focus on youth is appropriate, Europe has an ageing population that finds it harder to engage with the European project. Unless these debates are grounded in realism, they may serve to drive an even greater wedge between the European Union and its citizens.

    Image Credits: EPP Group

    André P. Debattista European Union Future of Europe Leadership

    André P. Debattista

    The Quest for a European ‘Soul’?


    05 Oct 2021

  • The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games ended a few weeks ago with the EU as the world’s greatest sporting power once again, even post-Brexit. 24 out of 27 member states obtained medals in the Olympics, for a total of 288 – more than the USA, China, and Japan combined (the top 3). 85 of those medals were golden, twice as many as the USA. 24 out of 27 member states also obtained medals in the Paralympics, for a total of 390 – almost as many as China, the UK, and the USA combined (435). 99 of which were gold medals, three more than China, who ranked first in these Paralympic games.

    To better understand just how much European sporting strength is superior, simple demographic data is helpful: the EU has roughly 447 million inhabitants (2020), which represents a little under 6% of the world’s population. Despite our small human power, the European Union won over a fourth of the medals, with a ratio of one Olympic medal for every 1.5 million inhabitants (and some spectacular ratios like Slovenia’s 420,000 inhabitants per medal, or the Netherlands 490,000/medal), while the average ratio in the Olympics is 1 medal for every 7.6 million people.

    The Olympics (the EU also leads the Winter Olympics medal table) are a great metric due to the high number of disciplines included. But if we look at other major sports competitions, we can also see our great performance: the last four FIFA World Cup champions (most-watched sports event in the word) were EU member states – 8 out of 13 in the last 50 years. The EU has also dominated cycling in the last few decades, including the Tour, Giro, and Vuelta, and won 2 of the last 4 Basketball World Cups. Not to mention the strength of EU tennis players, taking most of the top 100 world ranks, our monopoly in the motorcycle racing world, or the fact that we host some of the best professional sports leagues in the world.

    Now, if we manage to achieve these incredible results with 27 different sports federations for every discipline, 27 Olympic Committees, 27 budgets, training facilities, etcetera; what wouldn’t we achieve if we started cooperating and centralising some capabilities? For example, taking one step at a time, we should consider creating an Olympic EU Directorate-General that could start working on a Pan-European scholarship system (alternative and/or complementing the existing national ones), giving a chance to potentially great athletes who still struggle to train due to lack of investment and logistical handicaps. For instance, Slovak or Hungarian sailors or surfers who need to commute long hours to the sea, or Belgian snowboarders and skiers who are a long distance from the closest mountain.

    This is something that would fit perfectly within the competences established by the Lisbon Treaty: Article 6e of the TFEU confers on the EU the competence to support or supplement the actions of the Members States in the field of sport, while Article 165(1) sets out the details of a sports policy, stating that the Union shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues, while taking into account the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity, and its social and educational function. The aim of such a Sports DG and programmes for scholarships and training also go in line with the “Exchanges and mobility in sport” call for proposals that the European Commission is currently having within the Erasmus programme for 2021-2027, for the implementation of pilot projects and preparatory actions in the areas of education, sports, and culture.

    In this regard, a Report on EU sports policy (Rapporteur is our EPP MEP Tomasz Frankowski) is currently being drafted and amendments have been made by our political group in the Parliament, in order to include the possibility of an Erasmus for athletes too.

    Beyond that, I believe the EU could deliver some support by coordinating training programmes and even hosting high-performance facilities. With less overall investment, we could have the best facilities, coaches, and benefit from the interaction of European athletes, learning from each other and having a much better chance to beat other non-European athletes.

    Moreover, Europe critically needs to give a bigger relevance to sport, at all ages and in all countries. The reasons why this is a critical matter are several, and here is a list of some of them: a skyrocketing growth of child obesity and overweight that we need to tackle, for which there is nothing better than a healthy, balanced diet and sport; the need to reduce our CO2 footprint, which can be helped by boosting the use of bikes and walking in our daily commutes; the rising concerns surrounding mental health, especially after the pandemic lockdowns, that can be partially addressed through exercise; and something that usually escapes our view: the need of group membership, values learning, and integration for so many thousands of young Europeans.

    Let me explain this last issue before ending with a happier note. We have experienced decades of secularisation and laicisation of our countries, familial downsizing, extreme consumerism and individualism, mixed with new technologies – sometimes creating addicts and often reducing direct socialising between our citizens. These elements have brought a much-discussed crisis of values, shift of beliefs and behaviours, and in many cases a feeling of lack of membership and belonging, isolation, and marginalisation in many children, teenagers, and young people.

    Data show that there are more and more young Europeans taking part in associations, clubs, and NGOs. But there are also more and more joining hooligan and radical groups, gangs, and criminal organisations, while in parallel the consumption of alcohol and drugs grow along with delinquency, especially within certain areas and demographic groups. Sport is something very powerful to not only avoid children ending up in these kinds of dynamics in the future, but also to get children out of them if they are. It has proven extremely useful even in the worst ghettos in the USA; sports can give a great education in values, belonging to a group, and even life opportunities if money is put into specific programmes.

    Europe should be proud of its sport, especially because our lack of ‘muscle’ makes us much more dependent on soft power, and there is no greater one than sport. Go to any village in South America, Africa, or Asia, and you will see children with football T-shirts of European teams and their heroes will always be athletes. But we also need to put sport on the top of our list of priorities, and our political family, the Christian-Democrats, should lead the effort to encourage sport and the values that come with it, our values: family, teamwork, solidarity, respect, hard work, to overcome oneself… We have so many living examples like David Lega to get inspired by!

    This has been the European Week of Sport, a yearly celebration made possible thanks again to the work of one of our members, former MEP Santiago Fisas, whose 2011 Resolution on the European dimension in sport asked for such a celebration. The moment to make it happen is now; the Olympics are coming to Europe in 2024, let’s start working for Paris, let’s start working for Europe’s biggest pride: our Sport!

    Álvaro de la Cruz European Union Society

    Álvaro de la Cruz

    Why Sport Should be Europe’s Biggest Pride


    01 Oct 2021

  • The Conference on the Future of Europe, which is happening at a time of significant geopolitical shifts, represents a unique opportunity to review our European Union’s priorities. By taking stock of the progress made so far, assessing where we currently stand, and determining what our next objectives are, we can make the right decisions for this all-important coming decade. But offering ideas about or goals is only half the battle; the Conference is also about reviewing the methods and tools of our policies. The most well-conceived and appropriate policies are only as successful as their implementation is effective.

    We are convinced that the EU should move forward towards a real, functional, determined, authentic federation of European nations. We believe our Union should be based and developed on a strict principle of subsidiarity, with a clear division of tasks to avoid confrontations stemming from lack of clarity. National capitals should retain primacy on cultural matters for instance, but the EU needs more power in the core areas of defence and foreign policy. This would ensure both EU institutions and Member States are respected. Strict subsidiarity, with clear responsibilities, would lead to more effective decision-making procedures and put the common European interest above national egoisms.

    It will also require respect for the values we share, as well as our traditions and our ‘way of life’. Chief among these values and traditions are democracy and freedom of thought and speech. Sure enough, the Conference can only be a success if we are able to freely and openly present and exchange ideas, with the wide participation of EU citizens and civil society. I am confident that we can achieve this by focusing on and truly listening to the needs and concerns of European citizens and involving them in the next steps, as we continue to build the European project. This is singular and truly great opportunity for us, the European citizenry, to come together and shape the EU.

    Share your voice, join the debate. Thinking together for the Future of Europe.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda European Union Future of Europe Leadership

    Share your voice, join the debate. Thinking together for the Future of Europe.

    Other News

    17 Sep 2021

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech has become an established news item, resonating across European media. The 2021 speech had a strong focus on recovery and the last remaining steps to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Structurally, her State of the Union speech was very similar to last year’s, starting with a short reference to the ‘Big Picture’, followed by a list of various Commission initiatives, often with the promise of creating new tools, with budgetary backing. This year’s speech even ended on a similar note as last year, with a ‘human dimension story’. 2020 referenced young girls playing tennis in Liguria, while this year it was an Italian Paralympic gold medallist.

    Rather than a speech on the State of the Union, the EU, its long-term vision and its upcoming challenges, the speech became an opportunity for the Commission President to market ongoing initiatives and launch new ones, focusing on the EU’s internal policies.

    But although the speech’s focus was mostly internal, it reflects a desire for the European Union to become (yes, really) a true global player.

    Since external strength comes from within, and no doubt driven by the momentum created by the situation in Afghanistan, von der Leyen logically followed up by underlining the importance of being ambitious in security and defence cooperation, discussing the plan to convene a Summit on European Defence under the French EU Council Presidency.

    However, there is currently no lack of different cooperation mechanisms in the area of security. Instead, the challenge is a lack of motivation on the part of EU member states to engage and invest in their own defence capacity, without even thinking about cooperation at the European level. On the one hand, replacing existing progress by launching a new process with fresh expectations to be fulfilled can be counterproductive. Still, a Summit can create political momentum for further development.

    Another initiative mentioned in the State of the Union speech, although perhaps surprising, is the idea of a Global Gateway strategy, a kind of response to China’s New Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The strategy seeks to create partnerships with countries around the world, creating investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, peoples, and services around the world to build a worldwide brand. It sounds big and ambitious, but the obvious question is, where is the money?

    China’s BRI is estimated to involve around $2.5 trillion at the moment. Undoubtedly, the EU will aim to use similar financial leverage as with the ‘Juncker Plan’, but securing funding for massive global infrastructure projects outside the EU’s territory and matching China will prove to be a challenge. However, a key difference between both projects is that the EU’s Global Gateway effort should be based on important EU values and aim to build genuine, mutually beneficial partnerships, as opposed to China’s strategy of debt trapping and subsequent diplomatic coercion, which are the backbone of the New Silk Road.

    Currently, the EU’s external force leans heavily on its economic force and its trade ties. The “Brussels effect” makes the EU a leading regulatory force, and the current woes of the US and China put the EU in a unique position to become a promoter of global trade. It is therefore almost surprising that the State of the Union speech did not allow room for a more elaborate discussion on the EU’s role within the global economic patterns and EU trade.

    Naturally, one could claim that due to COVID-19, global trade is still shellshocked. However, global trade and business are recovering much faster than expected. During the COVID crisis, the prognosis was that supply chains would be radically changed after the pandemic. As it turns out, we’ve instead witnessed increasing demand and prices, with many companies basically returning to the same production models. Globalisation as a trend will bounce back.

    The European Union will not be able to project its power in the same way as big, global sovereign states. It originated in multilateralism and cooperation, holding weaknesses other global entities do not – but also possessing strengths others are lacking.

    While the defence and security pillars are essential for a strong EU in the future, development is slow, and thus its primary strength remains centred on its economy. As we wait for next year’s State of the Union speech and its own human story ending, there are equal expectations on how the EU will aim to claim its place and, through its multilateral dimensions, shape the future of the global economy and trade.

    Photo Credits: EPP Group in the European Parliament

    Tomi Huhtanen China Defence European Union Globalisation

    Tomi Huhtanen

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    15 Sep 2021

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  • We are thrilled to launch our new series #ComeTogether in cooperation with the EPP. With this series, we bring together ideas and policy from our political family to debate them with you! In this first episode, we discussed the #FutureofEurope with EPP Vice-President Paulo Rangel and with WMCES Strategic Coordinator Federico Reho.

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    #ComeTogether Ep 1 with Paulo Rangel and Federico Reho

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  • 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

  • Federico Ottavio Reho European Union Social Policy

    [Europe Out Loud]: The architecture of the European community: a chat with Leon Krier

    Europe out Loud

    04 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

  • As of February 2020, the percentage of female Members of the European Parliament (EP) is 39,5%. This is the highest percentage the EP has reached since its establishment in 1979. For the 2019 European Elections, eleven Member States had legally binding gender quotas regarding the make-up of electoral lists, including sanctions in case of non-compliance. Several Member States’ gender quotas are gender-neutral, aiming to avoid the under-representation of both women and men. Among them are Slovenia and Spain, who required gender-balanced electoral lists, with each gender represented by at least 40% of the candidates on the list. Three Member States required lists in parity; one of them being Luxembourg, who required a 50-50 gender balance on the list, with financial sanctions for non-compliant parties.

    To ensure that candidates from both sexes are placed in positions on an electoral list with a good chance of winning a seat, some Member States required the alternate ordering of men and women on the list (‘zipping’). This is the case of Belgium, France, and Portugal, among others. In Member States without legally binding electoral gender quotas, political parties sometimes voluntarily introduce quotas for the nomination of candidates; this is the case in The Netherlands and Sweden, for instance.

    The percentage of women in the national parliaments of EU Member States in 2020 was 28,6% overall, which is also at its highest level ever but remains inferior to the representation of women in the EP. In The Netherlands and Germany, two countries slightly above the average (33,3%[1] and 31,5%, respectively), there are several political parties that voluntarily implemented quotas for the nomination of candidates, but not all parties have such internal rules.

    The figures above and the various approaches show that countries make their own choices as to whether or not to enact legally binding quotas. Debates in Germany and The Netherlands illustrate that this is a discussion about conflicting fundamental rights, on the one hand equality of men and women, and on the other hand the freedom of political parties. In the latter, equality is considered as a matter of subsidiarity, in which this fundamental right is seen as a ‘task’ to be exerted by the most appropriate body, i.e., a political party.

    However, the question needs to be raised whether subsidiarity is the right answer.  

    Let’s dig a bit deeper into the German and Dutch debates. In 1994, the German legislation added a second sentence to Article 3 (2) of the Constitution, reading as follows: “Men and women are equal. The state shall promote the effective implementation of equal rights for women and men and shall work towards the elimination of existing disadvantages”. While equality has been declared a state responsibility, Germany has not implemented this clause into its electoral law thus far. Meanwhile, several political parties have voluntarily implemented gender quotas for their candidate lists. However, this has not yet led to gender parity and the under-representation of women is leading to growing concerns. Recently, a national discussion began on whether this is a task of the political parties or whether the state has to act. Should a parity law or a reform of electoral law be introduced, including binding regulations on adequate representation of women?

    Although the Dutch Constitution is also clear about equal rights for women and men, gender equality has not been incorporated into electoral law. It is considered to be a matter of subsidiarity: political parties are responsible for effectively putting into practice women’s representation on candidate lists. Although all major parties spoke out in favour of proportional representation of women, others have not done so, with the result that equal representation in the Dutch parliament has, so far, not been reached.   

    The figures of political representation of women in the European and national parliaments, and the German and Dutch cases lead to a clear conclusion: subsidiarity is not the solution. Well-designed electoral quota laws are essential in increasing women’s representation in politics. Having a gender equality clause in a Constitution is not optional. It requires effective pursuit and implementation. Equality is a fundamental right.

    Moreover, the Council of Europe states that a ‘balanced participation’ of women and men in political and public decision-making is a condition for justice and democracy, and that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in political or public life should not fall below 40%. The EU has been committed to the same goal since the beginning of this century. The Union considers “achieving a gender balance in political representation and participation as a matter of justice, equality and democracy”. Even closer to our centre-right political family: In Christian Democratic theory, political philosopher Jonathan Chaplin and others state that equality and justice are at the centre of the discourse on equality and inequality, and thus especially on equal rights.

    So, what are we waiting for?

    [1] The Dutch elections of March 2021 have increased this figure to 39%.

    The author welcomes any comments or requests for further information. Hillie van de Streek can be reached on her LinkedIn profile.

    Hillie van de Streek European Union Gender Equality Political Parties

    Hillie van de Streek

    Equal political participation of women and men: Subsidiarity is not the solution


    07 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

  • COVID-19 has profoundly impacted Europe in the past months. Battling the multiple waves of this pandemic, all EU member states have faced many challenges. Simultaneously, the EU has had to grapple with long-standing trends in the world—both those that have intensified and those that have remained unchanged since the outbreak of the virus but are still pressing. We do not know when the crisis will be over, and yet we must face the consequences of the pandemic and learn its lessons.

    This event will reflect on the period of the COVID-19 pandemic up until now: the challenges that the EU and countries around the world have faced in this time of crisis, and the lessons that can be drawn from these challenges.

    Constantine Arvanitopoulos Niklas Nováky COVID-19 European Union

    European View Launch The Great Reset: What COVID-19 Means for Europe

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    04 Mar 2021

  • The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to strengthen the security of supply within the EU. When lockdowns were introduced in early 2020, many European countries discovered they had insufficient stockpiles of critical materials and medical equipment. The EU’s reliance on external suppliers and well-oiled supply networks was a liability when countries were all scrambling to secure the exact same goods. Although the situation has improved and the EU has taken steps to address these issues (e.g. creating rescEU medical stockpiles), improving the security of supply and hence internal resilience will continue to be a priority in 2021.

    This event brings together experts to explore questions such as: What competencies do the treaties give the EU in the area of security of supply? Could member states such as Finland and Sweden, who have well-developed security of supply frameworks in place offer certain best practices to the EU? Does the EU need a security of supply strategy or a dedicated agency to advance the security of supply within the Union? How will the EU’s forthcoming Strategic Compass address security of supply?

    Niklas Nováky COVID-19 European Union Security

    Strengthening the EU’s Security of Supply: The Way Forward in 2021

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    03 Feb 2021

  • A podcast series that aims to challenge commonly held assumptions about the European project in a tour de force through European history, culture and civilisation. Podcast host Federico Ottavio Reho redefines political correctness with the help of razor-sharp arguments and beautifully drawn historical parallels.

    Federico Ottavio Reho EU Member States European Union Values

    [Europe Out Loud] A Threatened European Cultural Heritage?

    Europe out Loud

    22 Dec 2020

  • The recent agreement on the EU budget and Recovery Fund is the latest example of the difficulties in forging pan-­European agreements. Even in the midst of a global pandemic and the urgent need for a secure budgetary framework, the EU’s decision-making process continues to frustrate faster, majority led decision making.

    These disagreements between member states directly risk the ability of the EU to proceed with key policy initiatives such as the Recovery Fund, the Green Deal and working towards a fuller recovery from the ongoing Corona crisis. This, in turn, has the potential to compromise the wider geo-­political role of the EU as a global actor. It also injects uncertainty into how the financial markets view existing commitments made by Brussels regarding Europe’s flagship Recovery Fund. This event will consider if the recent disagreements over the Rule of Law mechanism should provide the catalyst for a wider reform of how important decisions are made at EU level. What other mechanisms, if any, exist for ensuring a more streamlined and efficient decision-making process at EU level? Could agreement on fundamental issues be reached outside the standard approach of achieving unanimity across all member states?

    Roland Freudenstein Economy European Union Macroeconomics

    The Budget, Recovery Fund and Implications for the Future of EU Decision Making

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    17 Dec 2020

  • ‘A Europe that Protects Its Heritage’ with De Gasperi Foundation (Italy)


    – François-Xavier Bellamy, MEP, EPP, Substitute Member of CULT Committee

    – Federico Ottavio Reho, Research Officer and Strategic Coordinator, Martens Centre

    – Luigi Crema, Professor of International Law, University of Milan, Member of the Scientific Committee, FDG – Moderator

    Federico Ottavio Reho Luigi Crema European Union

    NET@WORK Day 2 – Panel 2

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    26 Nov 2020

  • ‘Staying Subsidiary, Getting Stronger’ with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Germany) and Political Academy of the Austrian People’s Party (Austria)


    – Elmar Brok, former MEP, EPP, Member of the National Board of CDU

    – Franz Schausberger, former Governor of Salzburg, Member, CoR

    – Ingrid Steiner-Gashi, Brussels Correspondent, Kurier

    – Tomi Huhtanen, Executive Director, Martens Centre – Moderator

    Tomi Huhtanen European Union Regionalisation

    NET@WORK Day 1 – Panel 2

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    25 Nov 2020

  • I say Europe, you say?

    Christmas Eve. For me, Europe is like home. Like family. Europe is about our traditions and also about our dreams. I can still remember, especially from when I was a child, that Christmas is a time when you dream most intensively.

    In your opinion, what has been Europe’s greatest strength during this Corona-crisis?

    I am afraid that especially at the beginning of the crisis, Europe showed its weaknesses rather than its strengths. We can still remember this time of chaos, of a conflict among member states, this spiral of mutual accusations. All this included typical blame games, partly provoked by the external powers. This is why, in fact, what I consider to be the biggest European strength during this time, is that we were able to at least agree on the Recovery Fund, and that we were able to stop this conflict and the very emotional tensions among member states.

    Do you think the EU will come out of this crisis more united and integrated as it has after past crises?

    No one knows when the crisis will end. But what we do know for sure is that it will have many consequences of a known and of a still unknown nature, in politics, economy, and in our social life. This very fact can provoke fears and a feeling of threat and uncertainty. Sometimes fear is a good reason to seek unity. But of course, I would prefer a Europe which is able to unite around other values than the common threats or fears.

    The EPP has managed to keep its activity running smoothly since the very beginning of the pandemic, how did the party adapt so quickly and make it possible with all of the limitations in place?

    First of all, because we have a brilliant President… I’m just kidding. Seriously speaking, I think our whole team was really disciplined and well-skilled when it comes to new forms of daily work. I was so impressed, because it was absolutely clear for me that our people were extremely well-organised and determined, and yet cautious at the same time. In fact, they worked very intensely despite the pandemic restrictions and rules, while respecting those same restrictions and rules. This was, and not only for me, a very unique experience and I have learned something very positive about my people here.

    What about you? Were you already an advanced technology-user, or did you have to adapt to all of the virtual tools; Webinars, doing conferences on Teams, and so on?

    I was able to use my mobile before the pandemic… Frankly speaking, I will never like those new methods and new forms of work. I will certainly never like politics online. Politics is about emotions. It is not about procedures or simple messages, or institutional preparation. Sometimes I feel that maybe this pandemic is some kind of an anticipation of our new post-pandemic reality, which means that you will have meetings online instead of in person. Maybe our whole life will be online, not in person. It seems to me like a very pessimistic dystopia.

    This leads us really well into our next questions. What do you miss the most about pre-COVID times?

    I am a football fan. Not just about football, I am crazy about all sports. What I miss the most is, first of all, sports events with an audience; crowds chanting and booing. This change is extremely visible and painful. Also, going to the cinema with my family, especially with my grandchildren, or even smiling at people on the streets, because now a smile is covered by a mask. What I also really miss is a Sunday breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, at Avenue Louise.  It used to be a little ‘tradition’ for me here in Brussels.  

    And what do you miss the most in your political activity from the pre-COVID times?

    As I have said, in politics, direct contact is really important. Especially for me, with my temperament. Sometimes, I  prefer a really tough argument or fight. I really like this part of politics. Online, everything is a little bit artificial. You can prepare this online life and work perfectly, but politics without emotions and without fighting can be very boring. What I really hate in our work is routine, monotony, and the risk that our work may become monotonous.

    This summer, the member states re-opened borders. Did you manage to travel somewhere for your holidays?

    Yes, I did. I spent four weeks in Poland in a small village with my grandchildren in my most beloved Kashubia region, and it was one of the best times in my life. We also went to Normandy and Brittany in France. I have to say that visiting Mont-Saint-Michel, Saint-Malo or Deauville during the pandemic time was something really unique and exceptional.


    COVID-19 has created deep concerns all over Europe. What are your feelings about Central Europe, and especially Poland? Do you think the crisis will bring forth populist narratives in certain EU governments?

    I am very worried about COVID-19 developments, especially in my country. I should say that not only Poland, but Hungary and the entire region, have gone through the first phase of the pandemic quite safely. In my opinion, these are rather fortunate coincidences than good governance. In fact, in my opinion, it is very difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the Polish, Hungarian, or Slovak governments because of their lack of testing. Without testing, you have no real measures or instruments to assess the situation. For example, in Poland we have almost five times fewer tests per capita than in Germany. Without concrete numbers or statistics, you can make propaganda.

    The recent presidential election in Poland was a big disappointment for many of us, but it gave hope to many Polish and European citizens. What should be the next steps for the Polish opposition after this very close election?

    This optimism is quite justified. In fact, if the presidential elections had been fully fair, the opposition would have won. The difference was really small. You can say that the elections were free, but they were not fair. I am quite sure that if the democratic opposition in Poland were able to unite before the next parliamentary election which is in three years, they would have a chance to win.

    Returning to EU politics, what are the biggest challenges facing the EU and the EPP during this autumn and winter?

    That is a question for a book rather than for our short interview! In a few words, of course the pandemic comes first, for which an effective vaccine is our hope. Unfortunately, migration will remain a crucial issue in the next months. It has received less coverage because of the pandemic, but nothing has changed. The dramatic situation in Lesbos in the migrant camp of Moria is just a signal that migration will be topical in the agenda, no doubt about that. A growing pressure from the illiberal democracy front is not just a seasonal problem. It will be a very long-term process for those of us who believe in liberal democracy and who want to protect it. Rebuilding our transatlantic relations after the presidential elections in the US is another priority. And, of course, relations with China and Russia.

    Another hot topic: Do you believe we will finally have a hard Brexit in January? Is there any way to make the British government come to its senses?

    With Prime Minister Boris Johnson, given his extravagance, everything is possible. As a consequence, every scenario is possible, including a ‘no-deal scenario’. Knowing him – and I know him very well – a ‘no-deal scenario’ is what he prefers. This is why we need to be even more united, the EU27, especially when it comes to the Irish question.  

    In our latest ‘I say Europe, You Say…?’, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt suggested that we ask you what the plan is with Viktor Orbán?

    As you know, due to pandemic restrictions, we are not able to organise our regular Political Assembly, including the voting on the formal motion from our 14 member parties, to expel Fidesz. I know that it may sound like an excuse to bypass the issue, but this is our reality today in this critical moment. Some of our colleagues still believe that it is possible to convince Viktor Orbán to change his approach as to the principles of democracy and rule of law. I am afraid they are too optimistic. I am much more realistic when it comes to Orbán. My personal ambition is to protect our political family from the new trend of illiberal democracy, nationalism, and semi-authoritarian aspirations. For this, I need a clear majority in the EPP. We will see.

    Happier question now: when are we going to hear you sing again?

    Those who wish me well suggested that I stop singing altogether. And I can understand why. So now I am concentrated on my preparation for my first marathon. Thanks to the pandemic, I have more time to train and prepare myself. Jogging is much easier for me.

    Which EPP colleague or person would you nominate for our next interview, and what questions would you ask?

    Antonio Tajani. And my question to Antonio will be: How can a moderate centre-right be rebuilt in Italy?

    That’s a tough question.

    Life is tough!

    Christian Democracy European People's Party European Union

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Donald Tusk

    I Say Europe

    01 Oct 2020

  • The coronavirus has taken the West by surprise. It has called into question basic assumptions about globalisation, how our society is organised, how safe we actually are and to what extent we control the world around us. The virus arrived when we were without the proper conceptual framework to deal with a new type of virus, and we could not have imagined how much of a social challenge it would represent. The novelty of the situation has made most of us feel strangely confused, numb and calm, and in many cases has left us not knowing what to do with ourselves. This satirical review seeks to put some distance and detachment between us and the situation and give us an outside perspective of what the corona crisis can teach us, both at the individual and social levels. Before the situation becomes the ‘new normal’, we should take the time to extract some lessons from this mess.

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

    Jan Czarnocki Theo Larue Crisis European Union Society

    Jan Czarnocki

    Theo Larue

    Comfortably Numb in the Midst of the Corona Crisis


    14 Sep 2020

  • The departure of the UK from the EU is taking place at a time when the Union is ramping up its own ambitions in the field of security and defence. The EU is pursuing the goal of strategic autonomy to make itself a more influential actor on the world stage. It has initiated a number of programmes, such as Permanent Structured Cooperation and the European Defence Fund, with the aim of spending its defence euros more productively. These European initiatives may well drive the UK further away from the EU as they embody the very integration that had driven the UK to distance itself from the Continent in the first place. Yet this article will argue that the EU still needs to engage the important military capabilities of the UK to be successful in its new ventures and that the UK will also be exposed to many of the security threats that will keep the EU busy in the future.

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

    Jamie Shea Defence European Union Foreign Policy

    Jamie Shea

    European Defence After Brexit: A Plus or a Minus?


    01 Sep 2020

  • Download research paper: https://oy99maarxf.preview.infomaniak.website/publication/towards-a-sovereign-europe-a-centre-right-approach/

    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.

    Angelos Chryssogelos Centre-Right European People's Party European Union

    Teaser video: ‘Towards a Sovereign Europe – A Centre-Right Approach’

    Multimedia - Other videos

    27 Aug 2020

  • On 26 June 1963, the then-President of the United States John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, underlining the support of the Free World for West Berlin and West Germany.

    47 years later, the Special Procedure 50 of the UN Human Rights Council has issued a statement denouncing Beijing’s repression of Tibet and Hong Kong. The statement came just before the National Security Law in Hong Kong was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

    The Pearl of the Orient has suddenly earned a new name, as the “West Berlin” of the New Cold War.

    However, unlike in West Berlin, Beijing did not build a wall to prevent its corporations from investing in Hong Kong, nor did it ask foreigners to leave the territory. Beijing has instead always proclaimed that the National Security Law’s introduction was to provide extra assurance of the famed “One Country, Two Systems” doctrine coined by Deng Xiaoping, a leader China has long outgrown.

    However, it is precisely this kind of attitude that should push the European Union to act – beyond expressing “grave concern” – and take the Hong Kong question seriously. The enactment of the National Security Law is a litmus test of the EU’s capacity to defend its interests and universal values in the context of the “Great Decoupling”.

    International relations academics and EU specialists agree that contemporary EU-China relations are determined by two factors (as suggested by Michael Yahuda). First, the tyranny of distance, and second, the primacy of trade. In short, owing to the lack of geopolitical ambition of the EU and the absence of shared geographical boundaries (terrestrial or maritime), the protection and promotion of EU economic interests in China is the core driver of EU action towards China. As a result, the European Union has long been satisfied with the current model of cooperation. In the field of trade and investment, the EU opts for a good trade agreement with the absence of a human rights clause (from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed in 1985, to the long-awaited conclusion of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment). Unlike its “selective engagement” approach with Russia, the European Union currently does not link its business presence in China with better political development and social reform – not to mention the suspected violation of citizens’ safety in Hong Kong.

    The Pearl of the Orient has suddenly earned a new name, as the “West Berlin” of the New Cold War.

    However, the new reality after the enactment of the National Security Law in Hong Kong demands exactly this. As detailed in Article 38, the Law will have extraterritorial effects, as it applies to offences committed outside Hong Kong by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region. For example, any person who joined the Martens Centre’s recent online webinar discussing the situation in Hong Kong is at risk of prosecution under Article 38, as participating can be viewed as provoking hatred, or even sanctions towards Beijing. The National Security Law is without a doubt a threat against the fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by European citizens, political parties, think-tanks, or activist groups. The message from Beijing is clear: anyone who wishes to do business in Hong Kong must respect China’s concept of national security – regardless of that person’s nationality or their locality.

    The National Security Law impacts European corporations as well. According to the latest implementation rules, the authorities are empowered to “freeze, restrain, confiscate, and forfeit any property related to offences endangering national security”. They also may require foreign political organisations and agents to provide information on activities concerning Hong Kong. The Law deliberately creates a dilemma and makes it clear to European companies. If a company surrenders information to the authorities, they violate their clients’ goodwill. If a company does not cooperate, its business interests in Hong Kong and mainland China will suffer. Beijing is effectively leveraging the West’s extensive business network and economic interests in Hong Kong, in order to test the European Union’s ability to balance its pursuit of commercial benefits and commitment to universal values.

    From Beijing’s perspective, should European companies and EU Member States kowtow to the new arrangement in Hong Kong, Beijing will have full confidence that economic interests will always serve as good diplomatic leverage against the EU. In this case, the comprehensive investment agreement in its current form serves the foremost political interests of Beijing. Maintaining the status quo does not give the European Union any competitive edge against China’s sharp power in Europe. Only by acting in one voice and addressing the Hong Kong question seriously, can the European Union change the status quo and explore new possibilities in EU-China relations.

    This article does not advocate for sanctions against Beijing, nor does it ask the EU to provide a UK-esque lifeboat policy to the citizens of Hong Kong. Instead, this thesis pleads for Europeans to act with one voice, and for the European Union to re-discover its diplomatic capacity, rooted in the commanding strength of the Common Market, and its formidable global regulatory regime. As history once showed, any hesitation would turn Europe into an ideological battlefield. Should there be a New Cold War in the 21st century, Brussels ought to utilise its structural strength to protect the very foundation of Europe’s peace, prosperity, and the well-being of its citizens.

    Credits: Image by Jimmy Chan on Pexels

    Hong Kong Global Research Council Democracy European Union Foreign Policy Human Rights

    Hong Kong Global Research Council

    More than “West Berlin”: The EU should take the Hong Kong question seriously


    27 Jul 2020

  • This article discusses hybrid threats and the steps that Europe, through various national, EU and NATO initiatives, has taken in recent years to address them. Although these threats do not constitute a new challenge for states and international actors, they became a major concern for European countries following Russia’s conventional and unconventional war in Ukraine in 2014. The article argues that addressing hybrid threats is a constant, never-ending process that requires the development of societal and governmental resilience. Hybrid threats are constantly changing and evolving, which means that our response to them also needs to be constantly evolving in order to keep up. The article also provides some recommendations for European policymakers on the next steps that Europe, especially the EU, should take when addressing hybrid threats.

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

    Eitvydas Bajarūnas Defence EU-Russia European Union Security

    Eitvydas Bajarūnas

    Addressing Hybrid Threats: Priorities for the EU in 2020 and Beyond


    24 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

  • The corona crisis apparently reinforces the role of the nation-state, of the government and the hard struggle between the United States and China, which put their own interests above the multilateral world order. Yet a different agenda is needed now, says former Prime Minister Prof. Dr. Jan Peter Balkenende: “Collaboration, connection, and sustainability are now more essential than hammering on the nation-state. Europe and Christian democracy can play an important role in this. Christian Democracy has always had the courage to row against the current.”

    The interview conducted by Marc Janssens, editor-in-chief, has been published in Christen Democratische Verkenningen, Summer edition 2020 (Dutch). The World Leadership Alliance – Club de Madrid published the interview in English. Below you can find a summary of the key elements and an excerpt from the interview.

    Key elements:

    – Precisely at a time when nation-state and autocracy are leading the way, we must strengthen the social undercurrent of connectedness, values, ​​and sustainability.

    – The global agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate change and the circular economy give hope and perspective to everyone. This agenda is essential to overcome nationalism, populism, and attacks on multilateral organisations.

    – High trust societies are performing better than low trust societies.

    – Europe must develop a new narrative, in which commonness, diversity, solidarity, and competitiveness are leading, which discusses the importance of values and shows geopolitical leadership.

    – A new orientation and organisation of our economies are required: a moral, responsible, and stakeholder capitalism.

    Jan Peter Balkenende has been out of active politics for ten years, after his time as Prime Minister (2002-2010). But sitting still is by no means the same as uninvolved. He works as an external senior advisor to EY, a professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, a supervisory board member at ING, and is involved in various organisations. The common thread is sustainability, social connection, global cooperation, and tackling inequality. The guiding principle in all this is the Sustainable Development Goals: “We now see a world where it seems to be about the right of the fittest and about capitalism driven by a mere pursuit of profit. China and the US compete for world power, but are mainly focused on their own interests. Their leaders Trump and Xi Jinping have little interest in multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation or the World Health Organisation. On the other hand, I would like to draw attention to another, hopeful agenda: that of sustainability, the common interest – the so-called Common Good -, a circular economy and working together.

    Europe but also Christian Democracy can play an important role in this, because they have a long tradition of connection and attention to the moral side of all kinds of issues. If Europe seeks strength in its uniqueness and in the interest of global institutions, it may prevent being played apart by China and America. Global thinking is not only about countries and their governments, but also about NGOs, companies, universities, civil society, religious groups. The SDGs – requiring actions and measurement – and Pope Francis’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ provide hope and perspective. Christian Democracy can be important in this because it is not only a political but also a social movement. We as Christian Democrats have always had the courage to focus on connection and row against the current.”

    What does the new story of Europe look like?

    “We have to redesign the EU to motivate people and organisations. Europe must start from its own strength, which connects countries that are also different. Of course, there are concerns in Europe and there is a lack of unity, but the current crisis requires the commitment and qualities that Europe has always drawn strength from: bridging differences and thinking together. In addition, Europe must also show results, for example in the areas of climate, environment, sustainability, and a circular economy. Showing results will strengthen trust in Europe among citizens, organisations, and businesses; but Europe must want to reform. Equally crucial is the awareness and debate about values ​​in Europe: peace, democracy, liberty, solidarity, equality, justice, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. If you break EU rules and see Europe only as an institution from which subsidies can be obtained, sanctions must follow, after dialogue of course. Europe is too important at its core and relies too much on its own values ​​to be undermined from within.”

    How do you assess the situation in the US?

    “The US fascinates by its dynamism. This has enormous appeal in the fields of science and innovation, but politically it is a completely split country. The connection is gone; there is a certain harshness surrounding discussions about fake news that is not good for the country. There is a need for truth-seeking institutions. We live in previously unthinkable times. In the late 1980s, Francis Fukuyama wrote his essay “The End of History” about the liberal democratic world order. Now we can see book titles such as “The End of Democracy” and “How Democracies Die”. The world order, as it was built up after the Second World War, has proved extremely fragile, so it is therefore important now to draw attention to values ​​such as connection and communality.”

    Doesn’t the corona crisis show that many companies in their prime have let their profits flow to shareholders, and now have to hold hands with the government because they have too few buffers? Shouldn’t we get rid of shareholder capitalism?

    “It cannot be the case that shareholders only focus on the short-term financial gain and neglect the long-term consequences for the company and society. In this respect, I strongly support values-driven capitalism, in which not only financial growth, but also the social involvement of companies is the main aspect. This is really about creating shared value: economic and societal value. It must be about inclusive thinking and acting. That stakeholder thinking – the World Economic Forum recently argued for stakeholder capitalism – is essential in this day and age, when we meet the limits of money-driven capitalism. We are entering the era of responsible capitalism.”

    What contribution can Christian democracy make in the debate about the organisation of society?

    “That we recognise that all issues have a moral component. We are now faced with the choice: do we only determine what the role of the state, the market, and social institutions are through an economic prism, or do we examine, from a moral framework, what justice is and what the common good is, the so-called Bonum Commune. Then it’s not only about the question “who does what”? No, then we first determine what we want, what public justice means, and then the question arises why the market, government, or society can best do this. This is called differentiated responsibility in Christian Democratic thinking, but it is always a spread responsibility normalised by solidarity and stewardship. Something similar is needed now, because all kinds of things will shift due to the corona crisis. It is my firm belief that the strength of Christian democracy lies in our vision of tomorrow’s society: common good and Bonum Commune, community thinking, moral capitalism, long-term value creation, climate and stewardship, the SDGs, collaboration, and connection. We need to develop this further and, therefore, we must be inspired. That inspiration remains the most important thing a Christian Democratic politician needs. “

    Christian Democracy Economy European Union Values

    Against the Current for the Common Good

    Other News

    14 Jul 2020

  • The travel industry is one of the economic sectors most harshly affected by the Coronavirus epidemic. Airline companies are facing the worst challenge in decades by cutting costs and laying off employees, fighting to survive another day.

    National airline companies have now become a significant challenge for EU member states. Airline companies do not only employ large amounts of people; they are part of the core transport system of each EU member state, and often potent national symbols. Should national airline companies collapse, national governments would have to foot the bill.

    Therefore, the European Commission’s announcement on 2 July, launching an infringement procedure against ten EU member states in breach of the bloc’s passenger rights rule was met with discontent in some EU capitals.

    In many EU member states, the view is that passenger rights should be temporarily suspended. Lobbied by airline companies, twelve EU countries have demanded the suspension of passenger rights. In practice, this would mean if a flight is cancelled, instead of immediate reimbursement (for which the delay is currently one week), passengers would be offered a voucher instead. The member states’ letter proposes ‘a clear right of reimbursement immediately at the end of validity’. The short-term implications of this are unclear, but if the voucher’s validity is 2 years, the consumer could wait for their money a long time.

    The problem is that as the airlines are fighting for survival, and enjoy the moral backing of the member states, questionable tactics are already being used. After the EU has already helped airline companies by waiving the obligation to use 80% of their take-off and landing slots, airline companies across the board have begun cancelling flights last minute. This has obviously caused a big headache or two for airline customers.

    For airlines, the logic seems to be to ensure that flights are full and profitable. Unfortunately, some airlines are currently selling tickets for routes which they know full well the flight will probably be cancelled.

    The business logic is that through these unfair tactics, companies can improve their immediate cash situation by reimbursing customers with several months’ delay. Additionally, certain clients will end up returning the money to airline companies through vouchers, because airlines do not inform travellers about reimbursement options, or often make the reimbursement process so complicated that customers give up and accept the voucher right away.

    Fool me once, fool me twice…

    Of course, one can argue that it is in the customers’ interest for airline companies to survive, and the current climate is very tough for airlines. But misled customers should not be the ones paying the industry’s bill.

    As things stand today, the situation for us, as airline customers, is radically different. When buying a flight ticket, one has to take into account that the risk of flight’s cancellation has increased substantially. Secondly, one is better off buying a ticket from a company which you plan to fly with in the near future so the voucher is of some use, in case the flight is cancelled. Finally, remember that obtaining reimbursement for your ticket might be a lot of work, and you would be waiting a long time for compensation.

    By using deceptive tactics with customers, airlines are adding rapidly declining consumer trust to their long list of problems, the most obvious of which is a drop in demand for flights as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic.

    Once this trust is damaged, it will take a long time to regain it. The EU’s infringement procedure is not only protecting European customers, it is also protecting the flight industry by maintaining consumer trust. After all, the airline industry can only thrive with happy and confident travellers.

    Credits: Photo by Skitterphoto on Pixabay

    Tomi Huhtanen Crisis Economy EU Member States European Union

    Tomi Huhtanen

    Travelling in times of Corona: how the EU is preventing a long-term aviation’s crisis and saving our summer holidays


    10 Jul 2020

  • Without a doubt, 2020 will be a year the world will remember. So will Andrej Plenković. Croatia’s Prime Minister just got re-elected and secured 66 parliamentary seats for his conservative HDZ party, in a surprising outcome to the election. Moreover, this historical win comes only five days after the European Union’s youngest member state passed the Council leadership baton to Germany, not to mention the ongoing fierce pandemic, which Plenković’s government had to combat in its own backyard and on the European level.

    Ambitious priorities based on the slogan “A Strong Europe in a world of challenges” had to be reconsidered during the Croatian EU Presidency. Andrej Plenković’s government had to react quickly in order to adapt to conditions brought on by COVID-19.

    Firstly, high-level meetings in Croatia and Brussels were replaced by video-conferences, and cultural events, geared towards serving the nation’s branding purposes, had to be adapted for social media promotion. 

    Secondly, relating to the allocation of the EU budget, Plenković’s government intended to shape the final draft of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in order to serve all EU 27. At the same time, it advocated for additional funds for Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy, two items which the current MFF draft proposes to reduce. Due to the pandemic and short timeframe, when the conversation shifted towards money, an agreement was reached on an EU Recovery and Resilience Facility worth €560 billion, and three safety nets, including €540 billion in loans in response to the coronavirus’ consequences.

    Thirdly, one of the central aspects of the Croatian Presidency was enlargement policy, and the Presidency’s commitment to opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, which culminated in the EU-Western Balkans Summit. The Zagreb Summit was the crowning achievement of the Croatian Presidency. In March, EU Heads of State not only gave their green light for the opening of negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, but they also sent a clear political signal to the region and emphasised its importance for Europe. Although the summit’s initial aim was to address the rule of law and the fight against organised crime, it focused on the coronavirus and €3.3 billion in financial assistance that the EU pledged to the Western Balkans region to help it recover from the pandemic.

    If Member States were to be given marks at the end of each six-month EU Presidency, the criterion for assessment could be the fulfilment of the tasks set out in the Presidency programme, in coherence with the EU agenda. Despite the very ambitious programme and the government’s thorough preparation, not all the objectives set out could be achieved due to the previously mentioned conditions. However, according to Charles Darwin, it is not the strongest that survive, but those most adaptable to changes. And Croatia deserves a petica (meaning an excellent mark) in that regard, because not only did the country adapt well to unforeseen circumstances, but it simultaneously sent out a message of solidarity, unity, and a bright vision of a stronger EU.

    Simultaneously, Andrej Plenković had to fight battles on home court. During a full-blown crisis, he had to reappoint a new health minister, which proved to be one of the key moves for the upcoming elections. Croatia’s National Civil Protection Headquarters, composed of Health minister Vili Beroš and Interior minister Davor Božinović, are perceived as superheroes, who put feelings of trust and safety in the minds of Croats when they needed it the most. It was precisely the term ‘safety’ that was the motto of Plenkovic’s campaign #SigurnaHrvatska, which motivated voters to elect a party that can lead them to brighter days, come hell or high water.

    Even though this was the third time in the past 14 months that Croats went to the polls, and while previous results did not play out well for HDZ, Andrej Plenković took the correct conclusions out of earlier mistakes, choosing the right time and the right people. His newly composed electoral list left nothing to be desired. A balance of experienced politicians with a dash of competent and promising youth, running an election called immediately after a very successful management of the pandemic, and before the incoming economic downturn, was the magic formula. Croats had their say, and they voted for a safe, proven, and ambitious option.

    Nevertheless, there are still five more months until the end of the year, and there are already new problems on the horizon. According to experts, the upcoming economic crisis should hit harder than in 2008. This threat, paired with coronavirus, climate change, existing migration challenges, and growing populism, will cause a lot of sleepless nights in Zagreb.

    Sandra Pasarić Elections EU Member States European People's Party European Union

    Sandra Pasarić

    Finding security in uncertain times: A ‘petica’ for Andrej Plenković


    07 Jul 2020

  • This article examines the question of migration from the perspective of long-term integration. In recent decades, the latter has often yielded to multicultural policies shaped on the recognition of groups and their alleged identities and demands. Through a case study of blasphemy against Islam, this article argues that multiculturalism has three main flaws: first, it shrinks the complexity of identities in order to assign individuals to pre-made boxes, thereby essentialising communities; second, it fosters social conflicts by opposing different groups and their supposed demands; and third, it creates a discriminatory system, contrary to the principles of equality and dignity. To avoid the ruination of the European dream of openness and diversity, it is necessary to return to an individualistic view of integration based on freedom, equality and universal citizenship.

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

    Tommaso Virgili European Union Islam Migration Values

    Tommaso Virgili

    Whose ‘Identity’? Multiculturalism vs. Integration in Europe


    06 Jul 2020

  • The article examines the immigration and integration policies of France, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. It argues that there is a need for a more unified understanding of the concept of integration throughout the member states. Although European law does not regulate the issue of immigrant integration as it is a competence of the member states, there is a need for a unified understanding of integration. Denmark’s integration policy is described as an example of an effective policy that ought to be emulated, in contrast to those of other countries. The article concludes that the problems France, Sweden and Germany face in integrating newcomers are partly due to a lack of consensus about what integration ought to be.

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

    Claudia Cajvan EU Member States European Union Integration Migration

    Claudia Cajvan

    Lessons From Migrant Integration Into European Societies


    30 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

  • For as long as the EU has had a China policy to speak of, it has been ambiguous. The EU’s most recent China strategy calls the country “a partner, a competitor, and a systemic rival.” Europeans understand the challenge posed by Chinese mercantilism and its ambitions for continental hegemony. Even before the pandemic, most Europeans held an unfavourable view of China, with 70 percent of Swedes and 57 percent of Czechs seeing the country in a negative light. However, devising a coherent approach has proven difficult.

    One reason is that even among the more ‘hawkish’ countries, there is not necessarily an understanding of what an effective European response should resemble. For France, Chinese mercantilism is best confronted by mercantilism of a European variety: building European champions and tossing aside competition and state rules. But that is a no-go for governments of smaller countries wary of China – say, Sweden – who nevertheless understand that European monopolies showered with public funds are a costly and ineffective response to the challenge at hand.

    Another reason is a persistent distrust of US President Donald Trump. Joining forces with the United States is a losing political proposition as long as America is seen as erratic, mercurial, and primarily concerned with its own bilateral trade deficit, instead of the broader economic and geopolitical challenges that China’s rise involves.

    Yet, the current triangulation between Beijing and Washington often requires a denial of reality. At his recent press conference, the High Representative Josep Borrell claimed that Chinese leadership “do not have military ambitions and they do not want to use force and participate in military conflicts”, notwithstanding China’s recent grab of Indian territory and the militarisation of the South China Sea. Whom does one believe: Mr Borrell or one’s lying eyes?

    The EU’s ambiguity has also provided a permission structure for member states to strike deals with China, which will harm the continent’s interests over the long term. Examples include Italy’s embrace of the Belt and Road initiative – or, more recently, the rushed and secretive decision by the Hungarian government to proceed with the construction of a Chinese-financed rail connection with Belgrade.

    Finally, the lack of a principled China policy erodes the EU’s status as a champion of human rights and democracy around the world – a mantle which Europeans have been keen to carry in the era of ‘America First’. After years of pussyfooting around the status of Taiwan, Tibet, or the regime’s appalling treatment of the Uighur minority, the milquetoast criticism of China over its crackdown on Hong Kong is a case in point. An unambiguous violation of a commitment that was thought to carry the full force of international law requires more than “grave concern” and to “raise the issue in our continuing dialogue with China”, as Mr Borrell’s office put it.

    With its heavy-handed ‘public diplomacy’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has squandered a lot of goodwill in Europe. “We should not shy away from naming and shaming” said Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s vice-president, regarding China’s disinformation efforts in the wake of the pandemic. Ms Jourová’s home country, Czechia, saw the Chinese regime seek to co-opt political and business elites for years, inviting a broad-based backlash after it overplayed its hand.

    The current situation is Europe’s opportunity to rethink and step up. The simultaneous invocation of ‘partnership’, ‘competition’, and ‘systemic rivalry’ in the EU’s relationship with China is not sustainable. Partnership presupposes trust and the existence of common goals. Competitors have different interests but adhere to shared rules of the game. Conversely, a ‘systemic rival’, as the Greens’ MEP Reinhard Bütikofer correctly put it, “just wants to win.”

    Nobody expects the EU to embark on a Trump-led China crusade or to ‘decouple’ itself from Chinese trade and investment flows. Yet, clear guidance for member states on Chinese investment in critical sectors, whether they be infrastructure, finance, or tech, would be helpful. Similarly, a commitment to exclude Huawei from 5G networks across the bloc and joining the UK’s bourgeoning initiative to get the world’s leading democracies to cooperate on technological alternatives to Huawei are worthwhile endeavours.

    The EU ought to be ready to walk away from the mirage of an investment treaty with China, currently in its 30th negotiating round. The EU wants China to scrap quantitative restrictions, equity caps, and joint venture requirements currently imposed on European companies. Also, EU businesses ought to be able to “compete on an equal footing when operating in China” by achieving “non-discriminatory treatment, prohibition of performance requirements – in other words, measures requiring investors to behave in a certain way or to achieve certain outcomes (including those leading to forced technology transfer) – and equal participation in standard-setting work.”

    Unfortunately, those practices are central to China’s state capitalism. The absence of noticeable progress since the decision was taken to start negotiations in 2012 shows that no matter how hard the EU presses for “full reciprocity”, a non-discriminatory business environment in China is not on the table. Meanwhile, Beijing is eager to turn Western economies into its playground. After all, only 15 per cent of Chinese corporations listed on the Fortune Global 500 are in private hands.

    European discussions over China would be much easier if the United States today were a trusted and reliable partner, providing strategic guidance, instead of the current administration’s petty displays of hostility towards the EU. The nature of China’s challenge to Europe, however, remains unchanged, regardless of who the current occupant of the White House is. Thus, it is imperative that Europeans use the window of opportunity provided by the pandemic and Beijing’s overreach to step up, hopefully to be joined in their efforts by the United States.

    Credits: Photo by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay

    Dalibor Roháč Crisis EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy

    Dalibor Roháč

    In the wake of COVID-19, the EU must do better to address China’s rise


    18 Jun 2020

  • What should be the European Union’s reaction to the Hong Kong national security law adopted by China? More generally, what should be the EU stance towards China’s oppression of various minorities?

    José María Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain:

    “We should align our efforts with those of our allies, creating a diplomatic coalition to put pressure on Beijing and to warn against China’s failure to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom under “one country, two systems”. We have to prepare possible economic sanctions as our response to China’s decision to impose new security legislation. Our response must be convincing to discourage possible Chinese coercion of minorities and especially of Taiwan.”

    Carl Bildt, Former Prime Minister of Sweden:

    “On the issue of Hong Kong, it’s important to coordinate our stance closely with international partners, especially with the UK, since it is very much the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that we must insist on being implemented to the letter and the spirit. Only by acting together, with a broader group of countries – including Canada and Australia – can we have any possible impact.”

    Antonis Samaras, Former Prime Minister of Greece:

    “When Hong Kong was integrated back to China in 1997, the general agreement was that nothing should challenge the overall sovereignty of China, and nothing should undermine the basic democratic principles already enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong, including the right of self-governance, their separate western-based judicial system, or the rights of various minorities. The Basic Law of Hong Kong – its formal term – was acceptable by all sides, and formalised the “one country, two systems” principle. This was a balanced approach that has worked so far and I do not believe it should change. I am gravely concerned about the repercussions of any attempt to undermine this agreement.”

    Can the EU adopt a common strategy in response to China’s bid for global hegemony, and what should this be? Can Europe “decouple” from China?

    José María Aznar: “For most of the last decade, the EU has looked at China through the prism of economic opportunity. Beijing’s transgressions, whether they are phasing out human rights in the country, dislodging South China Sea neighbours, stealing intellectual property from the West, or running propaganda and disinformation campaigns, have been ignored. Now, democratic nations need to make themselves less vulnerable to potential Chinese economic pressure and focus on security issues related to 5G networks. The EU’s common strategy must be based on three principles: 1) recognising that Europe’s values and interests are indivisible, 2) asking China’s government for reciprocity of market access, 3) cooperating with China on cross-cutting issues.”

    Carl Bildt: “I don’t think China aspires to “global hegemony”, but they clearly seek to gain increased influence in different ways, particularly in their widely defined periphery. The EU’s policy must rest on two pillars. To engage with China on issues like climate, global trade, and global health, but also to stand firm on issues of human rights, democracy, and non-interference. However, “decoupling” is a strange concept – we are not “coupled” with China. And no one will be able to ignore what will eventually become the largest economy in the world.”

    Antonis Samaras: “I believe we should have a common policy vis-à-vis China. But it should be an inclusive approach, not an exclusive one. Extensive dependence on international supply lines from China is not good for Europe or China. On the other hand, alienating China is also wrong. There is room for an “intermediate” solution, balancing the legitimate concerns from all sides.”

    The US is pursuing an increasingly unilateral approach on China, which might put the EU in an uncomfortable position. How do you expect this to affect the transatlantic relationship, and what is the best policy for Europe?

    José María Aznar: “The EU is in an uncomfortable position, but even with the current deep crisis in the transatlantic relationship, there can be no contest for the EU between its alliance with the world’s most powerful democracy, and a communist state that parades its contempt for European values. There is a strategic imperative to work together with the US, because the challenge posed by China will grow in the years to come, and only together can we safeguard the liberal international order.”

    Carl Bildt: “We must develop our own approach, and the paper from March of last year is a good start. What is profoundly embarrassing is that the EU is often blocked by some member states from being critical towards certain Chinese policies, notably when it comes to human rights. We must also hope that there will be someone in the White House open to constructive dialogue with the EU on these issues, so that a common position can evolve.”

    Antonis Samaras: “Europe is a long-standing trading partner and security ally of the United States. Europe is also a valuable trading partner of China. We will probably have to redefine both of these partnerships. However, most importantly, we must make them “compatible”. Europe can act as a valuable mediator between the US and China.”

    Crisis Democracy European Union Foreign Policy

    How should the EU handle relations with China?

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    15 Jun 2020

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some exploitative employer practices for both EU and non-EU seasonal workers, especially in agriculture in some EU member states. Can the conditions for these labourers be improved without damaging the viability and competitiveness of national agriculture sectors?

    Wido Geis-Thöne, Senior Economist Qualifications, Migration and Innovation, Cologne Institute for Economic Research:

    “If the exploitative employer practices violate existing legislation, better controls are needed. The problem is then that there can be such a strong distortion of competition that is detrimental to law-abiding companies that, if they do not also resort to these illegal practices, they can be forced out of the market. If companies are forced to violate the law, the regulatory framework must be adapted as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, the economic order itself will be called into question. In this case, either law enforcement has to be improved, or the legal framework must be adapted. If practices move within the range of what is legally permissible, the situation is different. In this case, it should be noted that there can be very different perceptions of when individual work processes are exploitative and when they arise from operational necessities, e.g. with regard to optimal harvesting times. In this case, policymakers are called upon to listen to all sides and to assess the arguments carefully. If the regulations are carried out within a reasonable framework, there is no reason to fear that the vitality and competitiveness of the European agricultural sector will be impaired, since imports from third countries play a rather subordinate role in this area and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides very strong support and protection mechanisms for domestic farms. Within the EU, agriculture, and hence seasonal workers should, in any case, be subject to largely the same rules in order to ensure that the CAP functions properly. At the same time, however, local conditions, for example with regard to wage levels, must also be considered in shaping employment relationships.”

    Monica Andriescu, Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute Europe, Brussels:

    “Guaranteeing fair working conditions can never be at odds with growth and competitiveness. The pandemic has exposed the fault lines of our economies and its pervasive inequalities. In these times more than ever, safeguarding workplace safety, health, and decent working conditions are critical to increasing productivity and building economic resilience. Policies cannot afford to go amiss in harnessing and protecting the human capital needed to weather the storm ahead. Exploitative working practices are regrettably still part of European labour markets, with migrants particularly vulnerable to unfair employers and temporary work agency practices. While there is political commitment at EU level to improve employment conditions for all workers, there is a need for decisive action to be channelled towards alleviating inequalities at times when they are likely to be exacerbated if left unchecked (e.g. increasing workplace inspections and encouraging the reporting of abusive practices). This is particularly relevant for sectors where workers’ vulnerabilities are heightened by the physically draining nature of their work, e.g. in agriculture. Despite the gloomy prospects this crisis brings at macro and micro levels, it does harbour opportunities to rethink connections between economic growth and good work, and how to go beyond artificial perceptions that there is an inverse relationship between them.”

    Rainer Münz, migration and demography expert, formerly working at the in-house think tank of the European Commission (2015-2020):

    “Following initial travel restrictions and border controls, many Western European farmers and slaughterhouse operators resumed recruiting labour in Central and Eastern Europe. Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands organised airlifts from Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. Employers mainly argued that domestic job seekers lacked the required experience and endurance. Another reason was that foreign seasonal and contractual workers are less expensive. They are exempt from certain social security contributions. Minimal wage arrangements do not apply if workers are hired via subcontractors or categorised as self-employed.

    The background to this wage dumping is competition within the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy does not shield Western and Southern European producers and processers from having to compete with their Central and South-Eastern European counterparts, operating in a distinctively lower wage environment. The flip side of this is retailers being able to offer lower food prices, for example, tomatoes at €1.29 per kg, apples at € 1.50 per kg or chicken nuggets at € 2.99 per kg.

    The COVID-19 crisis has exposed not only the extent to which certain businesses are dependent on readily available short-term migrant workers, but also their wages and their living and working conditions. In Austria, two dozen foreign temporary agricultural workers were confined in quarantine as some of them tested positive for the virus. In Germany and the Netherlands, hundreds of slaughterhouse workers were infected at their workplaces or at boarding houses. After the death of a few Romanian workers, the Romanian Minister of Labour, Violeta Alexandru (PNL), travelled to Germany to conduct on-sight inspection. Later in May, the German Minister of Labour, Hubertus Heil (SPD) announced that from 2021, it would become illegal for slaughterhouse operators to hire non-employed foreign contractual workers. It remains to be seen if this will lead to more automation, higher retail prices for meat or in a shift of production towards EU countries with lower wage levels or less regulated labour markets.”

    Several EU countries, including Germany, have been recruiting migrant and refugee health and social care workers although many of these people lack the professional certificates that they would require under normal conditions. Do you foresee a relaxation of national qualification standards as a result of the Corona crisis?

    Wido Geis-Thöne: “I consider it very unlikely that the Corona crisis will lead to a relaxation of national qualification requirements for health and social care professions. As far as I can see, the Corona pandemic is not expected to lead to a sharp increase in the number of people in need of care and assistance in the longer term. If this is not the case, there will be no sharp increase in the number of staff needed in the health and social services sector. The peak of the (first) pandemic wave represents an exceptional situation in this respect. However, in the context of demographic change, we will observer a gradual increase in the need for care and assistance, and this will pose major challenges for the health and social services in the medium term. It will also raise the question of whether it is possible to achieve a different mix of qualifications in these areas with a higher proportion of assisted personnel without the relevant specialist training.”

    Monica Andriescu: “National education and training systems are not prone to swift changes, such as the sudden relaxation of qualification standards. The key question is rather how to enable quicker procedures of recognition of foreign qualifications, which under normal conditions are often lengthy and complex. As evidenced by the stringent need for health and care workers to support the frontline fight against the Coronavirus throughout Europe, fast and effective procedures of recognising foreign qualifications are more relevant now than at any time in the past, to ensure a steady stream of relevant workforce. These will ensure that professional certificates are recognised in a timely manner and that occupational standards are maintained in destination countries. The pandemic provides an opportunity for relevant authorities and employers to join forces in identifying innovative routes to reform or expedite the recognition of skills, and to pilot these. The key challenge will be to balance speed and quality of processes and outcomes, without lowering standards.”

    Rainer Münz: “The relaxation of standards in order to hire migrants with professional health and care background during the COVID-19 epidemic is of temporary nature, caused by exceptional circumstances. It will not remain in place after the crisis ends. It can, however, be expected that many of those who have now found a job, will remain in the health and care sector. And we can assume that labour market authorities financing retraining and job integration of unemployed migrants will encourage more people to specialise as care givers or to have their medical degrees recognised.”

    Crisis Economy European Union Migration

    How does the Corona crisis affect the conditions for migrant workers in the EU?

    Other News

    29 May 2020

  • Amid -at times- stringent lockdown measures taken all over Europe, it seemed almost providential that one of our main platforms for home entertainment proposed a very bizarre show. 

    As we all guiltily binge-watched Netflix’s hit ‘documentary’, “Tiger King: Mayhem, Murder and Madness”, and revelled in its larger-than-life characters, we must be serious for a moment: the trade of exotic animals is a highly lucrative and unregulated business. In Europe, we have our own Tiger Kings.

    Where does regulation stand at the EU level? The EU mostly settles for the current CITES regulation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international norms system that began in the 1970s, that regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives. It ensures their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment.

    Illegal wildlife trade is a flourishing business, comparable to the traffic of drugs and weapons, and amounts to 7 to 23 billion dollars annually, according to a UNEP-Interpol report. Therefore, it was a welcome announcement when the European Commission pledged in its EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, published on the 20th of May, that it “will take a number of steps to crack down on illegal wildlife trade”. The Commission said that, among other things, it will revise its EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking in 2021.

    This communication was initially scheduled to be released two months ago, but due to the current pandemic that has been shaking the continent and the world, it could only come out now. COVID-19 can, in fact, be directly linked to the necessity of strengthening the future Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking.

    The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically shone a light on how wildlife markets, as well as the use of wildlife for traditional medicine, represents severe risks for zoonotic disease transmission. The proximity with humans provides a path for the transmission of dangerous pathogens. Wildlife markets, like the one in Wuhan from where COVID-19 is supposed to have originated, exist all around the world, and the European continent is a central hub of transport and trade for the lucrative business of wildlife trade. Besides wet markets, it is not uncommon to come across monkey meat in Brussels, or European baby eels in Asia.

    Zoonoses do not have to stem from direct contact between wild animals and humans, it can also spread from wildlife to parasites (ticks, mosquitoes, fleas) or to domestic animals, before eventually spreading to humans. COVID-19 had a zoonotic origin, but is now mostly contracted from other human beings. 61% of new and re-emerging diseases are of zoonotic origins, and although they can originate from the world over, some parts of the world are more prone to develop them due to larger biodiversity, a high density of humans and animals, and the international mobility of these humans and animals. The EU is both a vital marketplace and storage space for exotic animals that could represent a risk for zoonoses.

    It comes as no surprise that, with the emergence of the pandemic, members of the European Parliament have demanded a stronger clampdown on both the legal and illegal trade of exotic animals in the EU, where favourable conditions for the outbreak of diseases like COVID-19 are also rife. The difficulty lies in the effective differentiation between the legal and illegal trade of wildlife, since they are very closely intertwined, as this 2016 report by the European Parliament’s trade committee states.

    This is where a positive list can step in. French MEP Agnès Evren, from the EPP Group, is hopeful the EU will include a more restrictive positive list in tradeable species in its European Green Deal plan for the environment. A positive list sets into legislation what can be brought into the EU, and everything not on the list cannot come in. This method would considerably reduce regulatory bureaucracy at the government level, and facilitate custom officers’ work when distinguishing what is legal versus what is not. Currently, the limited, legal and regulated trade often acts as a cover for illegal trade of the same species.

    Criticism has been levelled against positive lists, invoking subsidiarity, and putting into question whether the EU even has competence on wildlife trade. In fact, some member states have adopted their own methods for tackling wildlife trafficking through positive lists. Others resort to negative lists which, contrary to positive lists, state which species are forbidden from trade, but where permits can be granted following a strict set of rules. Some member states barely have any regulation at all. Once an animal is inside the EU, it becomes harder to track its progression, and transportation is an even bigger headache when following every member states’ individual regulatory mechanisms. Here, EU regulation can create a level playing field for all actors, and reduce cumbersome bureaucratic efforts for national governments.

    Another benefit of further regulating what comes into the EU is the possibility of checking each animal for known pathogens, such as the one which has stemmed from SARS-CoV-2. Checks would allow for closer inspection of animals that are meant for food consumption, but also those that are intended to be kept as pets, as they too can contract the virus.

    The discussion on zoonotic diseases has indicated that poor regulation of wildlife trade can have serious consequences, the likes of which should not be ignored. COVID-19 is not the first and will not be the last pandemic to occur on our continent. EU regulation on this trade should, therefore, be adopted with the view of protecting the health of EU citizens.

    The EU Biodiversity Strategy, which will be an integral part of the European Green Deal, offers the perfect opportunity to take immediate action in preventing the rapid spread of diseases. We should not lose sight of the bigger picture either, which is to avoid future pandemics from happening in the first place. An EU positive list for species and pets is one way to bring much-needed regulation into a trade that has proven dangerous for the safety and health of European citizens.

    So no, don’t hit play on that follow-up meta-documentary about the hit documentary series. Instead, “Think Positive”.

    Anna van Oeveren COVID-19 Crisis European Union Trade Values

    Anna van Oeveren

    Animals in the time of Coronavirus: Why it’s time to think positive


    27 May 2020

  • EU countries have begun to ease national restrictions aimed at countering the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to the Visegrád Group, how do you evaluate the emergency powers granted to the executive branch?

    Pavlína Janebová, Deputy Research Director at the Association for International Affairs (Prague):

    “Strengthening the powers of the executive branch is certainly a logical and legitimate step in times of crisis. Regarding the Visegrád states’ governments (i.e. the Hungarian, Polish and Czech governments, as the Slovak one took office only recently), handling the COVID-19 pandemic has largely confirmed the tendencies that we had seen before. Fidesz-KDNP is taking Hungary yet another step further from democracy and the rule of law (with the EU still unable to react adequately). PiS in Poland is pushing for controversial legislation including a change to the electoral code despite the pandemic. Finally, the coalition of ANO and the Social Democrats in the Czech Republic is struggling to produce clear and comprehensible policies for their citizens, and although this is not surprising, it is far from encouraging.”

    Péter Krekó, Executive Director of Political Capital, independent policy research, analysis and consulting institute (Budapest): 

    “The V4 varies in this respect, and I think we can observe somewhat uneven tendencies within the V4. We can find more problematic tendencies of executive (mis)use of power under the pretext of fighting the pandemic in Poland and Hungary, and less in Czechia and Slovakia. In Poland, for example, the government is using the pandemic to put further restrictions on abortion, while it is not obvious at first sight how this might help to stop the epidemic. A law, similar to one in Russia, Hungary and Israel, which aims to discredit NGOs critical of the government by revealing their “foreign funding”, is underway. 

    In Hungary, the government also took steps to silence critical voices. Under the veil of the COVID-19 crisis, the Parliament amended the criminal code to make spreading hoaxes or ‘distorted facts’ about the coronavirus punishable by up to five years in prison. Government-organised think tanks and media then listed opposition journalists as sources of hoaxes to make the message even more evident. Authoritarian practices are also more widespread. For example, police fined citizens who were peacefully protesting against certain government measures without physically gathering, by making noise with their car horns and bicycle bells.

    What instead seems to be a common trend in Central and Eastern Europe is a narrative that China is providing help amid the coronavirus crisis, and the EU is not. Ironically, China might end up extending its sharp power influence in the region as a result of its ‘mask diplomacy’.”

    Milan Nič, Head of the program for Central-Eastern Europe and Russia at the German Council of Foreign Relations-DGAP (Berlin):

    “None of the other Visegrád group countries went as far as granting special powers with no time limit to its head of government, as in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. His rule by decree, adopted on March 30, did not make Hungary’s response to the spread of COVID-19 more effective than elsewhere in the region. In the regional context, Budapest was rather late in its response, less transparent and also had the lowest testing capacity. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, in contrast, closed schools in early March and enforced early lockdowns without the need to widen constitutional frameworks in place. Both countries also made wearing masks mandatory ahead of other European countries. Granted, they also made a number of confusing moves along the way, but these were corrected in response to public criticism and free media coverage.

    If we want to take lessons for the future, the overall response showed that none of the V4 governments had developed civilian crisis management systems for emergency situations, and had to rely on their armed forces or improvised decisions at the verge of legality, e.g. the very strict supervised treatment of their own citizens returning from abroad.”

    Do you think there was an East-West divide in the way governments addressed the COVID-19 pandemic? 

    Pavlína Janebová: “While I do not like the connotations of an ‘East-West divide’, it is clear that imposing strict containment measures early on helped prevent a much more serious spread of the disease in some Central and Eastern European countries. While that certainly is great news, the relative ease with which the borders were closed and the fact that the restrictions were largely undisputed might be a dangerous precedent for the future of Schengen and EU integration in general.”

    Péter Krekó: “I do not really see this. We can see across the world, and in the region as well, that even politicians who were initially hesitant to recognise the pandemic as a significant threat were later just following international trends and the recommendations from doctors and scientists. The region is lucky in that it seems to have been hit by the virus much less than Western Europe. The reasons for this are still to be analysed, and the region’s smaller global role matters. But even that only gave an advantage of 2 to 3 weeks for the countries in the region, and lockdowns, following Western formulas, began earlier here. The region also regards Western Europe as a model now, in the incremental opening process.”

    Milan Nič: “Yes, by now it is clear that the EU’s East moved faster to enforce lockdown measures than most Western European governments, despite a much lower level of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This was partly motivated by fear and awareness that their relatively weak and underfunded health care systems might not be able to contain a major outbreak.

    For the moment, I am concerned that an East-West divide could also be repeated with lifting the lockdowns, just in reverse mode. So far, V4 governments have been too careful and risk-averse when it comes to restarting their economies, which will have a severe impact on the economic recovery and social burden in the whole region.”

    In addressing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis at the EU level, how can the V4 contribute to economic burden-sharing?

    Pavlína Janebová: “In tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, solidarity and mutual cohesion in the EU will be crucial. While the Visegrád countries tend to consider themselves to be among the ‘poorer’ EU member states, and they will certainly experience economic downturn, it will be important for them to realise that other states will be taking the hardest hit. The Visegrád states should be ready to show solidarity in financing economic recovery.”

    Milan Nič: “That remains to be seen, as so far the V4 countries have neither been part of the problem nor the solution – most of them being outside of the Eurozone. But the main part is still ahead of us: political bargaining over EU recovery instruments and the next MFF (budget). For the entirety of Central and Eastern Europe, this is a crisis without precedent in the post-transition period as well as in their period of EU membership. Regarding the Visegrád countries, their government’s response is not going to be the same. It will likely shape individual countries’ political position in Europe, along with prevailing perceptions of the entire region by Western European public opinion – with a tendency to see them as one unit – for years to come.

    Crisis Democracy Eastern Europe European Union

    How have V4 countries responded to the Corona crisis?

    Other News

    25 May 2020

  • We should not be worried about the emergence of China as a superpower, wielding influence and power at a comparable level to the United States. China’s geography will not allow it. Instead, we should be worried about China as a globally influential superpower, less powerful than the US, but still dominating East Asia, building a global bloc of like-minded, authoritarian countries, rivalling the rules-based international order and undermining democratic standards around the world.

    In recent years, China has visibly increased its economic and political power. In some circles, the idea is emerging that China may become a superpower and regional hegemon comparable to the US. These fears are being highlighted by the seemingly ruthlessly effective way China is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and how, allegedly, our Western democracies are a comparative failure.

    China is now the second-largest economy in the world, it has begun to dominate numerous high-tech industrial sectors, and it is rapidly developing its military. Globally, it is the most important trade partner for countless countries. Its coordinated diplomatic efforts, inter alia through sharp power, make China able to leverage its stance better and become an increasingly influential player in global affairs. However, geography puts clear external and internal limits on China’s power.

    China is a landlocked country, surrounded by rivals. The Korean Peninsula is inhabited by two countries with a history of hostility towards China. Japan is an island nation, with a strong blue-water navy, able to block China’s access to the Pacific and maybe even to the Indian Ocean. Taiwan is effectively a mountain stronghold, with a capable military. Without controlling Taiwan, it is effectively impossible to control the South China Sea, a strategic area for China’s security through which most of its trade passes. Over the Himalayas, there is India, a distinct civilisation with its own ambitions and nuclear arsenal. With Russia, China is competing for the post-Soviet space, which is hardly helping relations, even if their rapport has become friendlier recently. China also has numerous internal issues. For instance, people in Hong Kong do not want to be a part of Mainland China, and there is separatism in Xinjiang. China is also poor in natural resources and barely able to feed itself without being reliant on imports.

    The Chinese momentum and the challenges for the EU

    Still, even with its constraints, China’s rise is a challenge for the EU. America’s shrinking global presence changes a lot in the global balance of power. The US Navy may soon cease ensuring the freedom of the seas, a global public good that is essential for international trade. Due to the American retrenchment, the multipolar, unstable global system, with emerging great power rivalries, may unfold soon. China will be a very strong pole of power, that will have to be taken into every equation, especially the European one.

    China is assertively and persistently fighting for global influence and, despite impediments, behaving like it wants to replace the US as the most powerful state in the international system. It is developing both its ‘Made in China 2025’ project and the Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at distorting world trade, by flooding it with price-dumped products. China is slowly becoming dominant in certain high-tech, high-value technology industries, like 5G and face-recognition. China is also spending more on defence and rapidly developing its military capabilities.

    This coalesces with its diplomatic efforts, consisting of actions aimed at building an alternative global order, based on an alliance of countries, like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, uniting against liberal democracies. China aims to undermine the legitimacy of the international, liberal, rules-based order, in order to gain more power. This should be vigorously countered. The EU needs to become more active, then reactive, and begin taking strong action against this threat.

    Developing a European narrative and response

    First of all, the EU needs to build a narrative to tackle China and other autocracies, that are aiming to delegitimise the current global order. It needs to be able to point out the numerous failures of autocracies, which are covered up by shiny construction projects, and point out the fact that there does not exist any viable and fair alternative to the international, rules-based global order. It also must be able to better illustrate the benefits that the current order yields, and the risks any alternatives may bring.

    The EU also needs to engage in an economic action plan. This means introducing legal measures that would prohibit buy-outs of our economy’s crown jewels and innovative companies, by China’s state-backed entities. It also means stopping the development of 5G infrastructure by Huawei in Europe, and investing in alternatives like Nokia and Ericsson, even if it is more costly in the short term. There is also a need for an expansion of funding to be able to support the development of states in need of cash, especially those in Africa, but also in Europe. Challenging Chinese influence also means paying more attention to Asia and what is happening there, as Asia is home to a major share of global economic growth. Trade deals with Japan, Singapore, and ratifying the one with Vietnam should be just the beginning of enhanced cooperation with the region.

    Moreover, if the EU will not take its security and defence seriously, that would mean engaging in an ambitious process to boost the member states military capabilities, as the efforts mentioned before, even if they are all undertaken, will not suffice. No one will be impressed, and especially not China, by empty talks about multilateralism, rules-based order and fair trade, if it is not backed up by hard power and if the is EU unable to take care of its own security.

    China, as a strategic competitor of the EU, should not be appeased. It should be engaged with confidence and wit, as the future wellbeing of all Europeans depends on it.

    Jan Czarnocki Economy European Union Foreign Policy Security

    Jan Czarnocki

    Watch out and act fast: shaping the EU’s strategic response to China


    14 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

  • A podcast series that aims to challenge commonly held assumptions about the European project in a tour de force through European history, culture and civilisation. Podcast host Federico Ottavio Reho redefines political correctness with the help of razor-sharp arguments and beautifully drawn historical parallels.

    Federico Ottavio Reho Christian Democracy Democracy EU Member States EU-Russia EU-US European Union

    [Europe Out Loud] “The light that failed?” a chat with Ivan Krastev

    Europe out Loud

    10 Apr 2020

  • Governments across Europe are implementing border closures, travel restrictions, and heightened screening at their borders. How useful are these measures in countering the spread of the Coronavirus?

    Rainer Münz, Migration and Demography expert, formerly working at the In-House Think Tank of the European Commission (2015-2020):

    “All these measures are definitely useful in reducing the risk of COVID-19 contagion, as is the case with any other epidemics. It is clear that infected business and leisure travellers have brought the virus from China to Europe and North America. The same is true inside Europe. Many people got infected after coming back from trips to Italy, western Austria, and a few other ‘hotspots’. Such closures even make sense within countries.”

    Jean-Louis De Brouwer, Director of Justice and Home Affairs, Social Policies and Sustainable Development, Egmont (Royal Institute for International Affairs):

    “Some have expressed the view that a mere closure which is not complemented by a strong programme of testing and tracking would be useless. Others have stressed that it was all the more senseless, as these decisions were often taken at a time when the virus was already inside the country. Not being an epidemiologist, I will refrain from engaging in this debate. But I would support the views expressed by Migration Policy Institute experts in a recent policy brief: while stressing that COVID-19 was not a migration problem, they acknowledged that “closing borders to non-essential travel might be a logical extension of asking people to stay home.”

    Carlos Coelho, Founder of the Schengen Observatory, former MEP: 

    “A general or targeted ban on travelling would help contain the spread of the virus. In contrast, the reintroduction of internal border controls is not necessarily useful in containing the spread of COVID-19. Why? Their implementation – particularly along land borders – is hardly possible: 1. The member states do not have enough human resources to conduct effective controls. 2. Controlling the green parts of the borders (outside the official border crossing points) is impossible. 3. A traveller might not show the symptoms and already carry the virus. Thus, the imposition of quarantines to travellers would be an effective measure. In addition, there are side effects to these controls, clearly affecting the free movement of goods overland. This is particularly worrisome for medical equipment and supplies, pharmaceutical products but also perishable goods such as vegetables and fruit.”

    It seems that only some member governments of the Schengen Area notified the European Commission of the impending reintroductions of border checks. Is this a problem?

    Münz: “Governments are working in an emergency mode. It might be that not all procedures foreseen by the Schengen regulations have been followed, but the Commission does not seem to have major objections (for now) as long as the flow of goods is ensured. We also should not forget that earlier border controls imposed by countries such as Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and France as a reaction to the inflow of refugees and irregular migrants in 2016 had still been in place when current measures were taken.”

    De Brouwer: “Yes, absolutely. Controlling access to its territory might be deemed as a fundamental prerogative of a Westphalian sovereign state. However, adherence to the Schengen Area of free circulation means accepting new rules and adopting new behaviours building upon transparency and mutual trust and translating these into permanent coordination. That is why the Commission rightly reacted by presenting its generally welcome ‘Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services’ on 16 March 2020. As the reintroduction of border controls and travel restrictions are indeed compatible with the Schengen ‘acquis’ under certain conditions, it was essential to implement them in a coordinated way while preserving the internal market.”

    Coelho: “Not necessarily. Border check notifications are lodged for three main reasons: 1. Guaranteeing publicity and transparency. 2. Allowing ex-post verification on proportionality and the necessity of national border controls by the European Commission (complemented by a report of the member states once the controls end). 3. Ensuring and encouraging coordination between the member state imposing the controls and those member states that are affected. Whereas the present controls are widely publicised, and the current situation falls within the circumstances foreseen by the Schengen Borders Code, it is not so clear that coordination has occurred. Not notifying the Commission might thus indicate a bigger problem: a lack of coordination between member states. Polish controls and their effect on the citizens of the Baltic countries serve as an important example. On the other hand, it will be essential to see whether or not the national controls produced the results desired and if they were effectively implemented. Notifications would provide relevant information to the Commission for this assessment.”

    On 16 March, all Schengen Area member states approved the European Commission’s proposal to impose a 30-day restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, thus creating a Schengen Area ‘security perimeter’.  What are the chances that this measure will lead to the easing of border checks inside the Schengen Area?

    Münz: “The issue is not so much ‘checks’, but the denial of access. This is an additional measure attempting to reduce contagion, and it will not affect travel restrictions. Both measures will – sooner or later – be lifted hand-in-hand.”

    De Brouwer: “This is the bet of the Commission, which, in its communication of 16 March states that ‘such a measure would also enable the lifting of internal control measures.’ However, the joint statement adopted by the members of the European Council on 26 March reflects a somewhat different understanding: heads of state and governments commit to ensuring smooth border management where temporary internal controls have been introduced, without actually questioning them. On a related subject, one should also bear in mind the negative consequences such restrictions could have on the respect of international protection obligations. Although the Commission explicitly stresses that such a measure should not apply to persons in need of international protection, or for other humanitarian reasons, the situations at the borders between Greece and Turkey or between Croatia and Bosnia deserve our utmost attention. By the way, this issue is not unique to Europe; it also arises between the US and Mexico.”

    Coelho: “None. Recent experience shows – notably with the so-called refugee crisis – that reinforcement of the protection of our external borders has not resulted in the lifting of the internal controls. Nor has it led to a change in the political debate. Moreover, even though this pandemic is provoking symmetrical effects across the union, the spread of the virus varies across the EU.”

    COVID-19 Crisis EU Member States European Union

    What are the effects of the national border closures on containing the COVID-19 infection?

    Other News

    08 Apr 2020

  • What does the Coronavirus mean for the EU as an international actor?

    Jamie Shea, Senior Research Associate, Martens Centre:

    “The crisis is still far from over, and this gives the EU time and opportunity to re-assert its relevance. Its institutions and their leaders should focus on clear objectives and persuade EU national leaders and their bureaucracies, currently beleaguered by COVID-19 pandemic management and lockdowns, to join this effort now.

    The first objective concerns recovery. The severe economic contraction in the industrialised countries could tip the global economy into a prolonged depression. So, the primary role for the EU is to lead the G7 and G20 together with the international financial institutions to come up with a coordinated global strategy to restart the global economy as soon as the virus subsides. The EU can best engage China in this effort in a way that the US finds increasingly difficult. China is where the virus originated, and it is the first major economic powerhouse to recover and restart production. So, it has a particular responsibility to help the rest of the world. The EU will need to persuade China to re-capitalise the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank and fully open the Chinese market to foreign goods and services. 

    A second priority is to help Africa. African countries mostly lack the sanitary conditions, health infrastructure, and the possibility to self-isolate that richer countries enjoy. Yet if the pandemic is not contained in Africa with its rapidly rising population and exposure to climate change, migration flows, and jihadist extremism, the EU will have an even bigger security headache to deal with. COVID-19 would mutate and quickly spread back to Europe. So now is the time for the EU to develop a true health Marshall Plan for Africa and work with the World Health Organization (WHO), the African Union and the financial institutions and development agencies to elaborate an effective strategy before the pandemic runs into the millions and, like AIDS 20 years ago, brings entire African societies to the brink of collapse.

    Finally, this pandemic will not be the last. The crisis has revealed multiple weaknesses in the global health management system from delays in sharing vital information, contradictory messaging and the spreading of fake news and disinformation, to uncoordinated responses and a lack of testing kits, respirators, and protective clothing. If the early stages of managing COVID-19 have been primarily national, emerging from it smoothly will need credible, authoritative guidance coming from international institutions. The EU should, therefore, lead an international ‘lessons learned’ exercise and push its conclusions robustly in the G7, G20, and UN bodies as well as regional organisations to ensure that the global community is better equipped to act early next time around. We need to mobilise more resources to lock down the pathogens before they spread beyond the point of origin. The EU can lead the way, first and foremost, by coordinating the crisis exit activities of its own 27 member states. It will then be in a stronger position to mobilise the rest of the world behind a better strategy for prevention.”

    Giselle Bosse, Research Associate, Martens Centre:

    “The picture of the EU as a failing, dysfunctional international actor in the COVID-19 crisis is misleading, at least up until now. The EU has minimal powers in the area of health, it can make recommendations, but member states are free to ignore them. And where it could, in areas of its legal competence, the Commission has already taken actions, for example, measures with regards to the lifting of export restrictions on medical equipment imposed by individual member states, or guidelines on borders to ensure the free movement of goods. The real challenge for the EU, the economic response to the crisis, is only just unfolding. This is an area in which the EU has significant competencies and instruments. Finding an agreement on financial rescue measures is not only crucial for the EU’s ability to offset the devastating economic consequences of COVID-19 and safeguard its standing as a major world trading power. Agreement on a joint economic response is also vital for trust and solidarity among the EU’s member states, which in turn is a precondition for a common EU foreign policy, including ongoing and future attempts to strengthen the EU’s autonomous security and defence capabilities.

    Moreover, while much focus is (rightly) placed on containing COVID-19, saving lives and economic rescue, Human Rights Watch, among others, reminded the EU that ‘governments should avoid sweeping and overly broad restrictions on movement and personal liberty’ and cautioned against governments requesting movement data from mobile providers, which violates the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). To make things worse, on 30 March, Hungary passed a law that gives sweeping new powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree, for an unlimited period of time. The manner in which the EU and its member states will handle human rights and democratic principles in the current crisis will send important signals internationally, and will very likely have implications for its credibility and legitimacy as a normative power.

    In conclusion, much of the current criticism and depiction of the EU as a dysfunctional international actor in the COVID-19 crisis has been exaggerated, and often exploited for (geo-)political purposes. The current crisis will neither lead to the decline of the EU ‘as we know it’, nor will it fundamentally change global order or the EU’s geopolitical problems. However, the EU’s response to the crisis will send important signals beyond Europe, which can have significant implications for the credibility of the EU as an international actor. Such signals range from the EU’s commitment to multilateral trade (versus the EU’s ‘protectionist turn’) to its commitment to human rights and democracy (versus the toleration of illiberal governments and policies within the EU), its commitment to fighting climate change (versus calls to delay the Green Deal in times of economic crisis) and, above all, the member states’ commitment to social solidarity (versus national economic self-interest). How COVID-19 impacts the EU’s credibility as an international actor is (still) pretty much in its own hands.”

    Jolyon Howorth, Senior Research Associate, Martens Centre:

    “The pandemic is global; the response has been national/regional. The EU’s reputation for normative or soft power has been battered. The Union abandoned multilateral solidarity, even in the area (the welfare state) where it claimed superiority over other regimes. The EU, as an ‘actor’, has evaporated; member states closed borders and hoarded vital medical resources.

    The crisis over finances replicated the Eurozone crisis, featuring a bitter internal struggle over the mutualisation of debt. Christine Lagarde initially declared it was ‘not the ECB’s responsibility’ to worry about German-Italian bond spreads. The refusal of the North to respond to Southern pleas for ‘Coronabonds’ poses an existential threat to the Union itself.

    The crisis has demonstrated Asian efficiency and Western fumbling, highlighted by Trumpian denial. Transatlantic relations are in limbo. Logically, this should prompt a clear shift of EU strategy towards collective sovereignty and autonomy – faced with Beijing as a potential hegemon and Washington as a false friend. Yet, as a result of the crisis, the Union is uniquely ill-placed to pursue that path.

    COVID-19 suggests the need for a total re-think of the balance of spending on defence and health. The ‘invisible enemy’ has demonstrated an exponentially greater need for protection against nature than against neighbours. The climate crisis awaits its turn on the stage.

    The kaleidoscope has been shaken, and the pieces will take years to settle. Muddling through is henceforth akin to a death wish.”

    Constantine Arvanitopoulos, Senior Research Associate, Martens Centre:

    Europe is overwhelmed by a pandemic crisis of almost biblical proportions.

    As countries are scrambling to deal with the immediate requirements of a colossal health emergency, an even greater threat looms on the horizon. Economists are warning us of the threat of an economic depression more significant than that of 1929.     

    Our response to the health crisis was not the best moment of European solidarity. We will always be haunted by the images of the military lorries carrying the dead of the city of Bergamo and European member states looking to China for health aid and equipment.

    This pandemic now threatens to infect the European «body politic». In political philosophy’s great tradition, the analogy between disease and civil disorder was proposed to encourage rulers to show foresight (Machiavelli) and reason (Hobbes), to prevent fatal disorder.

    In this tradition, the tragic loss of life should mobilise European leadership to prevent the recession from turning into a prolonged depression. As Mario Draghi wrote, unforeseen circumstances require a change of mindset, or as  Keynes had put it, ‘when the facts change, I change my mind’. This is a war, and wars are financed by public debt. Otherwise, the cost of inaction will be devastating. Those in Europe that do not succumb to reason and adapt to change will have no one to blame but themselves.”

    Niklas Nováky, Research Officer, Martens Centre:

    “The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Europe hard. Its immediate consequences will be economic and social in character. National governments across Europe will have to adopt unprecedented stimulus packages, adjust their existing budgets, and increase their national debt to protect their populations and economies from the pandemic and its eventual fallout. Yet, the pandemic will impact other policy areas as well.

    With regard to the EU’s security and defence policy, COVID-19 is likely to make the Union increasingly inward-looking for the foreseeable future. As during the global economic and the eurozone debt crises, political willingness in the EU to address various crises in the Union’s neighbourhood is likely to decrease, for example. European crisis management activities won’t cease entirely, of course, as demonstrated by the EU’s recent decision to launch Operation IRINI to monitor the UN arms embargo in Libya. Still, it will become harder to convince EU governments to contribute to various existing and potential new operations, especially if those operations don’t serve their direct national interests.

    The level of ambition of some of the new defence initiatives that the EU has launched since 2016 is also likely to be downscaled. The initiatives in the most immediate danger are the European Defence Fund, the European Peace Facility, and military mobility as their funding levels haven’t yet been agreed upon for the 2021-2027 financial period. Even before COVID-19, several member states expressed unwillingness to finance these initiatives at the levels proposed by the European Commission. COVID-19 will increase the number of such countries, and it is conceivable that some of the initiatives might not receive any funding at all. After all, in one technical compromise proposal made during the February European Council, the budget for military mobility was slashed completely. If this happens, it will be a severe setback to the European Commission’s ambition to be geopolitical.”

    COVID-19 Crisis European Union Foreign Policy

    What does the Coronavirus mean for the EU as an international actor?

    Other News

    08 Apr 2020

  • The world is currently bent on its knees amid the Coronavirus health crisis. While most of the European continent is “on pause”, for some countries it has turned out to be a time of dreams coming true. North Macedonia’s NATO accession is a case in point.

    The extremely difficult circumstances for Spain which is coping with the COVID-19 were not an obstacle for this momentous decision. The Senate in Madrid remotely voted and passed the bill approving North Macedonia’s accession, the last country on the path to this achievement. This completed one of the two strategic goals for the country since its independence: to join the North Atlantic Treaty.

    The news from Spain was praised by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and after the signature of the protocol by the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski, the formal ceremony of flag-raising is set to take place in Brussels. With this, the country’s quest which began in 1995 when it joined the alliance’s Partnership for Peace program has been completed. In 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, the longstanding name dispute was a reason for Greece to push strongly NATO not to give an invitation to a then-constitutionally named Republic of Macedonia.

    And that is only a part of the celebratory package. Some historic mistakes have been given a chance to be repaired. As Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez put it in his novel ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ (especially relevant nowadays), “humanity, like armies in the field, advances at the speed of the slowest.” The same can be said about consensus among EU member states.

    After the hugely disappointing failure to take a decision in October 2019, the Council of the EU on 25 March adopted conclusions on the EU’s enlargement policy, giving the green light to the opening of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. In a completely unusual setting for EU institutional meetings, the efforts by the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi have been met with success.

    The EU Council in October failed to decide on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania mostly due to the French position that the EU is in need of “deep internal reform and a new methodology for negotiations”. In February 2020, the Commission adopted and published a revised enlargement methodology. This new procedure seemed to appease French President Emmanuel Macron who slowly shifted his position. He raised first hopes that the French veto would be lifted after facing huge criticism by the EU’s leadership and leaders of Western Balkan countries on the “fatality” of the mistake he was making.  Perhaps, as Márquez wrote in 1988, “a Liberal president was exactly the same as a Conservative president, but not as well dressed.”

    The reactions to the new enlargement strategy in the Western Balkans ranged from “unimpressed” and “it will all end up as another paper-pushing exercise” to the more optimistic tone that “it will work only if used properly”.

    But what really counts is that the air has been cleared on this issue after 5 months.  As Márquez would say, the EU “opened the door a crack wide enough for [North Macedonia and Albania] to pass through.” The details of the negotiation process to follow have not been released yet, as the crisis triggered by the Coronavirus outbreak has created many uncertainties and a halt in many political and institutional processes. Once again it shows, when there is a political will, not even a slow internet connection can stop the dreams of some countries being fulfilled.

    For North Macedonia, the utmost strategic goals in the 29 years of the country’s independence have been EU and NATO accession. The unfortunate timing is moving the celebratory atmosphere to the homes of those staying in quarantine, as the country has imposed a curfew and restrictive measures on people’s movement in an attempt to cope with the spread of the COVID-19. After all, it’s more than just a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans COVID-19 Enlargement European Union

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Marquez in the Western Balkans – Lifelong dreams fulfilled in the time of Corona


    26 Mar 2020

  • Watch again our first Online Event on Tommaso Virgili’s publication about the integration of Muslim communities in Western Europe. Discussed by Tommaso and Ruud Koopmans, Director of the Department of Migration, Integration, Transnationalization at WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Moderated by Vit Novotný.

    Vít Novotný Tommaso Virgili European Union Islam Middle East

    Online Event ‘Lifting the Integration Veil: Outcasts from Islam in Western Europe’

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    24 Mar 2020

  • The European Union is not disintegrating. Some might be tempted to think so given the chaotic European response to COVID-19, the initial lack of coordination and the rapid introduction of border controls between member states. But in cases of national emergency national leaders rightfully tend to the needs of their citizens. This was to be expected as it mirrors our own individual reactions confronted with a sudden shock – irrational behaviour, potential panic and hoarding of supplies. All in all, the situation reflects the true nature of the European Union – a unique international organisation with federalist features but ultimately driven by national capitals and national interest. Many people expect decisive unilateral federal action but they won’t get one, especially in the short term. We will instead see a retreat to national lines, the adoption of drastic measures and then a decisive ‘make or break’ moment for a collective European response. This may be painful to say, but we will have a textbook EU crisis response.

    The European Union does not have exclusive competences to deal with healthcare matters and its role is mostly to coordinate health policies among its members. Additionally, it relies on national capitals for a coherent response in times of emergencies or natural disasters. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism might be pan-European in name but any type of assistance needs to be provided by the individual countries after a national decision. Regrettably, this is why Italy didn’t receive support in the immediate days after the situation got out of hand – the rest of the countries were chaotically wondering how to organise their own limited resources and equipment.

    What the European institutions can do in the short-term is to quickly mobilise available resources at their direct disposal and also facilitate the smooth functioning of the single market. In the last several days the European Commission took a number of important steps to achieve these goals by proposing a reshuffle of billions of euros from the European structural funds in order to provide relief to public budgets. Coherent measures were also announced on relaxing state aid rules and also providing liquidity to small businesses across the continent.

    No man is an island, and no European member state can cope with such a crisis on its own. 

    Most importantly, the Commission started untangling the protectionist knots which several countries started (somewhat understandably) tying due to the emergency in their countries. After the European Commission successfully intervened, medical equipment will not be limited nationally but will be exported throughout the Union. In times of border checks and travel restrictions, the Commission must be on its guard to ensure the free flow of goods and especially the smooth functioning of supply chains which will be vital for citizens, business and industry. Parliament and Council must be on standby to quickly authorise certain acts by the Commission or update relevant legislation where needed. The European Parliament, especially, has a key role in providing due democratic oversight and ensuring the proper communication of the adopted measures with European citizens.

    So far, so good. The Commission will try to be the honest broker between member states which on their side will slowly exhaust their budgets on national measures to contain the virus and also in the attempt to soften the blow for employers, workers and industry. In parallel, emergency or redirected European funding will also prove inefficient if the crisis lasts throughout Spring. The Martens Centre already outlined the major political economy implications of the coronavirus for Europe and the need for flexibility without limits when it comes to ensuring liquidity and adequate fiscal response.

    What comes next? The member states will rightfully focus on preventing contagion and saving lives. However, which European country can individually handle such a shock? China, where the virus started and spread worldwide, registered thousands of deaths, an unprecedented decline of industrial production and a dramatic collapse in car sales, domestic flights, retail and many other economic sectors. The Asian hegemon pumped and redirected a huge chunk of its national resources in order to tackle the crisis. If this terrible outbreak continues throughout the next several months, Europe will be confronted with an economic earthquake which could eventually threaten the Eurozone and the future of the common currency. Some member states will be reluctant to talk about bailouts and mobilising emergency funds but this might prove inevitable.

    No man is an island, and no European member state can cope with such a crisis on its own. We have seen it all and will see it again. European summits will grow long; patience will wear thin. Vows will be broken and new ones will be spoken until the EU muddles through. Successfully.

    The whole European industry will need to readjust and member states will be forced to collectively rethink the functioning of major parts of their economies. Ultimately, this continent will need to find a way to redistribute vast resources quickly and efficiently.

    The European Union will not come out of this crisis as a federation. But this crisis will receive a federal response.

    Dimitar Lilkov COVID-19 Crisis EU Member States European Union

    Dimitar Lilkov

    Muddling through: Towards an EU federal response to the crisis


    20 Mar 2020

  • The coronavirus has affected all of us and, equally, scared all of us. We are forced to change our daily lives and habits, along with the way we work and interact with others. It has reminded us how fragile and vulnerable we are, but also how we take many things for granted. It would be wise to use this time for self-reflection ahead of new challenges.

    Our European community has stagnated for years, if not decades. We established the Single Market, introduced the Schengen area, and got stuck with adopting more red tape, which is constantly growing. However, we are afraid to move forward with European Common Defense. We argue that neither a German nor a Slovak soldier will deploy his life for a European interest. We have created a separate institution for European Foreign Policy, yet foreign policy continues to be decided at the national level. Every seven years, we fight the same endless battles: whether the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) should subsidise farmers, infrastructure, or support Research and Development (R&D). This time, we are also discussing the future of the Spitzenkandidaten process and the introduction of transnational lists. 

    COVID-19 represents a great threat, but also a unique opportunity. Let’s use the lockdown and teleworking period to reassess our priorities. 

    We cannot expect the European Commission to find solutions to all of our problems. The European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism was the response to the global financial crisis, a solution that can withstand other similar challenges. Our answer to the migration crisis is to strengthen the control of our external borders. Many propose to declare war on globalisation and multilateralism. But where do we set the bar to tackle the coronavirus?

    We need to review our priorities, but also the methods and tools of our policy. We must move forward towards a real, functional, determined federation of European nations. Our Union should be based on the principle of subsidiarity where the EU institutions and Member States are respected. This model would lead to more effective decision-making procedures and will put the common European interest above national egoism. It will also require respect for the values ​​we share, as well as our traditions and our “way of life”. This formation will represent our European Common House.

    I am glad that the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies is ready to contribute towards building this house. Since 2016, we have been developing the vision ‘For a New Europeanism’. This project is our recommendation in finding a response to the global challenges we face: from the aggressiveness of China, protectionism of the US, Brexit, to migration and the current pandemic. When the time comes, and our lives are back to normal, we would like to present this project within the framework of the conference on the Future of Europe. In the meantime, we will continue to work tirelessly to come up with solutions to mitigate the impact of this pandemic. We struggle, we overcome.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

    Brexit Crisis Economy European Union Society

    Thinking Europe, Our Common House

    Other News

    19 Mar 2020

  • It is not the first time that Turkey is using civilians as human shields and tools of its foreign policy. During the Great War, the Ottoman Empire deported and exterminated a large part of its Christian population. In 1938, the Kemalist Republic followed a similar policy in Alexandretta. In September 1955, the Turkish state was behind the brutal “pogrom” against the Greek-Orthodox population of Istanbul. Two decades later, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus and forced thousands of Cypriots into exile.

    The same strategy is being used today on the Greek-Turkish border. Greece is facing an ongoing hybrid attack on land, sea and air by a so-called NATO ally. Recently, reports of cyber-attacks towards the Greek government and other sensitive sectors of the Greek state by Turkish hackers were published in the international press. In the first months of 2020, the violation and infringement of Greek airspace – with armed planes flying even over inhabited Greek islands in the Aegean – has reached new records.   

    The recent decision by Erdogan and his authoritarian regime to encourage and push thousands of desperate people towards the north-east Greek sea and land borders comes as a natural continuation to a series of aggressive actions taken against Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. These actions include illegal exploration activities in the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus and the illegal Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that openly violates Greek territorial sovereignty. In addition, reports and footage show that the movement of immigrants -including criminals detained in Turkish prisons- is being implemented with the active participation of the Turkish armed forces, police and the Turkish intelligence services (MIT). 

    Turkey has become a state “trafficker” that does not recoil from politicising human pain and misery, in order to make political gains. The Greek government’s rightful decision to increase the level of deterrence at its borders and temporarily suspend the asylum applications is the only possible reaction for any state intent on protecting its territory from a well organised hybrid attack. 

    In the last 3 days, there have been over twenty-four thousand instances of people illegally attempting to cross into Greek territory. In Evros, less than 200 were successful, in which case the intruders were immediately arrested. On Monday alone, over 1.000 arrivals were recorded on the Greek islands of the Northern Aegean. The situation is tense and a fatal accident could turn the whole situation into something that risks becoming uncontrollable.

    Turkey has become a state “trafficker” that does not recoil from politicising human pain and misery, in order to make political gains. 

    It is more than certain that Erdogan’s regime will use fake-news and propaganda in order to attract public sympathy and portray Greece and Europe as the offenders. Turkey de facto cancelled the EU-Turkey Statement and Action Plan. Those who speak about asylum and international humanitarian law from the comfort of their office thousands of miles away from the Greek border tend to forget the geopolitical realities in the region. We are no longer talking about individuals who are escaping conflict zones. What we see is uncontrollable masses trying to reach Europe in huge numbers under the direct encouragement, guidance and facilitation of an official state actor and its services.

    Greece and Europe should not succumb to Erdogan’s “Kapalıçarşı”[1] style of bargaining. If you lie down with the devil, you will most probably find yourself in hell. Turkey tried to act as a regional superpower and now reaps what it sowed in Syria. Erdogan, in his vanity, initially supported the ISIS jihadists, then turned against the Kurds and the West. Now, after his military disaster in Syria, he is trying to exercise pressure on Europe and the West in order to save himself from the chaos he created. 

    Those in Europe who suggest appeasing Erdogan by sacrificing Greece’s national security should take into consideration that this is a great chance for the EU. It can show that it is a real Union with borders and common values, and that it stands ready to defend them. Today Greece is the frontline and the bastion of Europe. Beyond Greece’s borders, democracy and logic stops. 

    In the midst of all of this, the loud silence of many prominent politicians in European capitals is extremely worrying. Politicians once vocal about the values of European civilisation are today finding it hard to say anything to strengthen the morale of a country that, at this very moment, is defending the European way of life in practice. Apart from the three EU institutions, only Austria, the Netherlands, France, and North Macedonia have openly expressed their will to actively support the Greek forces. 

    For more than five years, amid a tremendous financial crisis, the Greek population has shown strong solidarity and compassion to the tragedy of all displaced people reaching Greek shores. It seems that this has changed. Local societies can no longer bear an additional influx of immigrants as in 2015. The Greek state is determined not to allow additional “Morias” (this refers to the name of a town in the island of Lesbos that hosts a by now notorious squalid camp) to be formed around the country. Instead, it is only fair that Greece’s European partners step up to the plate.

    Usually polarised and divided along partisan lines, all Greeks are currently appearing united against Turkey’s plans. Greeks are determined to defend their country, and thus Europe, at any cost. There is no room for compromise in Turkey’s efforts to destabilise Greece and move forward with claims that put in question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Greece. Europe should act in this crisis as one if it wants to be taken seriously as a ‘sovereign’, ‘strategic’ and ‘geopolitical’ actor, to use some of the slogans repeated by its leaders in recent years. There is no time for simple statements of support. Tools and manpower must be deployed in the heated zone of Greece’s borders.   

    [1] Kapalıçarşı / Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the oldest, covered markets in the world.

    Panos Tasiopoulos Crisis European Union Human Rights Immigration

    Panos Tasiopoulos

    Turkish Bazaar: An asymmetrical threat to the EU


    03 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

  • A podcast series that aims to challenge commonly held assumptions about the European project in a tour de force through European history, culture and civilisation. Podcast host Federico Ottavio Reho redefines political correctness with the help of razor-sharp arguments and beautifully drawn historical parallels.

    Federico Ottavio Reho European Union Globalisation

    [Europe Out Loud] In defence of globalism: A chat with Dalibor Rohac

    Europe out Loud

    07 Jan 2020

  • Brexit has consumed, humiliated and frustrated Britain and its political leaders. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed it is easy to overlook some of the longer-term trends and changes it represents, not least how European the UK is and how Brexit is not a one-way movement of the UK away from the rest of Europe but in many ways has actually moved Britain closer to European norms. 

    The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. That reality is that the past forty years has seen the UK’s politics, constitution, economy, society and place in the world grow more European. This is a reality many UK governments have accepted and quietly worked with in searching to build and shape the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU. 

    It’s also a reality that has been on display in a General Election defined by European-style multi-party politics; commitments to welfare spending that would put the UK closer to European norms than US ones; and a growing realisation – if not acceptance – of Britain’s economic and security interdependences with the rest of Europe. 

    Many of the formal EU-centred links might now be severed or altered by a UK withdrawal. However, future negotiations about the UK-EU relationship mean those links could once again be formalized or reconstituted in new ways. Calls for this will be helped by Britain’s new-found pro-European voices who have been created, or in some cases brought out of the shadows, by the UK’s vote to leave. 

    The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. 

    Close alignment between Britain and the EU, however, should not be taken for granted in a post-Brexit environment. As recent debates about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted, on both the Right and Left some continue to hope that withdrawal will allow the UK to diverge significantly from European standards. 

    Such efforts, however, will run into the problem of the Europeanised state of Britain and the ever-present strategic need on the part of the UK’s government, businesses and civil society to engage closely with the continent to which the country is forever bound. The success of the EU and the UK’s need to shape it will therefore remain two of Britain’s leading concerns. 

    Does this mean the departure of a Europeanised Britain will inevitably lead to it rejoining? This is unlikely because the UK’s terms of membership would not be the same as now. Opt-outs from the Euro, Schengen, some areas of Justice and Home Affairs matters, and the British rebate are unlikely to be offered. The feelings of regret this creates could boost pro-European sentiments. But accepting such conditions will make for a very difficult sell in any referendum on rejoining. 

    As the Norway and Switzerland examples also show, support can also decline if the EU’s approach to future negotiations and relations appears abrasive, bullying or overbearing. It is important not to overlook how corrosive this could be on UK public support for links with the EU. 

    This should not be taken to mean that the UK and EU cannot negotiate a new relationship where the UK can continue to come to terms with its overlapping European and global identities. Negotiations have so far focused on the UK’s withdrawal. The future relationship remains an undiscovered country. 

    Nor does this mean the UK has to withdraw to become more European or recognise how European it is. Our forthcoming research into whether Brexit has made Britain more European might be taken to mean a non-EU Europeanised UK will pose no problems and that Brexit should not be resisted or regretted.

    However, in an emerging multipolar world Brexit carries significant economic, political, constitutional, security, defence, social and diplomatic risks for the UK. It will also cause significant ongoing problems for the EU to have to manage relations with a Europeanised but estranged UK struggling to come to terms with the fallout of Brexit. Far easier to face this with the UK inside the EU.

    Tim Oliver Garvan Walshe Brexit Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Political Parties

    Tim Oliver

    Garvan Walshe

    The Brexit election and the making of a European Britain


    12 Dec 2019

  • We could be heroes just for one day

    Though nothing will keep us together

    We could steal time just for one day

    David Bowie

    “Historic mistake” is the recap of the outcome of the European Council Summit, which didn’t adopt the decision to grant the start of negotiations for EU Accession of North Macedonia and Albania. This news has toppled the hopes of both countries for becoming members of the EU family, at least in the next decade.

    President-elect of the EC, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced that the EU will commit to the Enlargement and integration of the Western Balkan (WB) countries. The failure to adopt a decision on North Macedonia and Albania’s EU aspirations has conveyed a message to the region which has been echoed for a very long time – NOT YET.

    French President Emmanuel Macron has been the main opponent of any further enlargement of the European Union “until the Union itself undergoes a deep reforma new methodology for accession negotiations that would make them less technocratic”. No details for this proposal have been shared. It also remains unclear whether this would apply also to countries which are currently negotiating accession, such as Serbia and Montenegro.

    Another point of disagreement between the EU leaders was the decoupling of North Macedonia and Albania which would grant the start of negotiations only to North Macedonia, as Albania, according to some leaders, was “not there yet”. The French government was not alone in pointing out the enlargement fatigue and the problems with the rule of law in some of the states that joined after 2004 (Poland, Hungary). Also,  France is insisting on a strict application of the criteria for membership during the negotiation and crafting new instruments to better monitor the rule of law.

    In his recent visit to Belgrade, President Macron warned of “rising tension” in the region, referring to Russia’s enhanced presence and aspiration to capitalise on the still unresolved dispute between Serbia and Kosovo. A year ago, he addressed the public in North Macedonia to encourage the voters to have their say in the referendum on the name change, praising the “courage of the leaders and the central position of the Prespa Agreement in the country’s plans for the future”.

    The strong positioning against enlargement in the near future pretty much contradicts this and has been perceived as hypocrisy among the public.

    In the aftermath of the disappointing week, the fear of the consequences of this failure for the two countries, but also for the whole region, is rising. The slammed door by the EU to these countries has been seen as an open invitation for other actors in the East to take advantage and create further instability in the region. It’s neither new nor unknown that Russia, China, Turkey and UAE have laid their hands on the region in various forms to influence the cultural, religious, educational and economic development of these countries.

    Moreover, having no prospects for EU membership is encouraging young people to leave their country to go to Europe as “EU is not coming to them”. With already devastating figures of brain drain in all Balkan countries, the poor economic development, political and social environments and shattered European dreams, the youngest generations are rapidly losing hope that they can also become European citizens.

    Since the Feira summit held in Portugal in 2000, the WB countries have been considered as potential candidates for EU membership. So far, only Montenegro and Serbia have started accession negotiations, in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

    Albania and North Macedonia are expecting to start negotiations (Albania has been a candidate for 5 years and North Macedonia for 14 years!). Bosnia & Herzegovina has not received its candidate status yet. Kosovo is not allowed to apply for membership under Article 49 of the Treaty on the EU, as the state is not recognized by 5 EU member states.

    In the particular case of North Macedonia, it went through an extremely complicated and painful process of reaching a deal with Greece on the name issue, which was also a precondition for its NATO membership. Moreover, after the adoption of the new name into the Constitution with the votes of MPs who received an amnesty for their alleged roles in the violent storming of Macedonian parliament in April 2018, the friendship treaty with Bulgaria, it seemed that the country deserved to be given the green light into their EU aspirations. As a result, many EU leaders expressed their “embarrassment” with the EU failing to fulfil its promises and losing its credibility in the region.

    With the next opportunity for discussions scheduled to take place in Zagreb May 2020, it is yet to be seen if the Council intends to legitimately discuss future steps, or is merely flying a flag of false hope to all candidate countries. The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, expressing his “disappointment with the unjust decision,” has called for snap elections, which will bring more uncertainty to the future of the governing constellations, and the ensuing reform process.

    The former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government led by VMRO DPMNE publicly expressed that there are voices inside the party deliberating how to revert the Prespa Agreement if they come into power.

    Embodying the frustration of the country in this seemingly never-ending process, the foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov asked the EU to be straightforward if there is no more European future foreseen for the WB countries, bluntly stating “the citizens deserve to know”.

    And as we know, hope is the last to die. Because it would be a failure of a historic magnitude if the Western Balkan countries, in the eyes of the EU, would turn out to have been heroes just for one day.

    Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

    Katerina Jakimovska Balkans Enlargement EU Member States European Union

    Katerina Jakimovska

    Albania and North Macedonia: heroes just for one day?


    21 Oct 2019

  • Now that some of the dust has settled, the European People’s Party should start drawing the lessons of the EP2019 election and define the agenda ahead. The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, at its annual Think-In with its member foundations across the EU in Prague in early June, has developed a list of points to be considered. They are based on the individual reflections of member foundation representatives, and are subdivided into four chapters:


    Any deep post-electoral analysis begins with the questions: who are we? Who do we want to be? Much has been made of the obsoleteness of the classical left-right divide in politics. Many claim that in the wake of the crisis of the West, and more specifically the economic and migration crises of the last 10 years, the new paradigm is ‘open vs. closed’, pitting global, liberal thinking and borders open for migration and trade against local, traditional thinking and protectionism in terms of trade and migration. Against that backdrop, it does seem logical to look for a new self-description of the EPP political family. Alas, it is no coincidence that in the open vs. closed paradigm, the EPP has a foot in both camps. If we let that rift grow, it will weaken and eventually destroy us.

    But if we turn this weakness into a strength, by maintaining and actually reinforcing a common bond beyond and above the new political divide, then we can still remain Europe’s strongest political force. Such a bond is most likely to be found in the combination of Christian Democrat, conservative, liberal and centrist political thought that has already defined our political family in the past decades. If a new term better suits this complex picture than the time-honoured labels ‘people’s party’ and ‘centre right’, then let’s go for it. But it will be no easy task.


    Out of the many strategic conundrums for our political family, three stand out:

    • Who is the enemy? Until the late 2000s, the answer on the European level was clear: our main competitor (but also permanent cooperation partner in the EP) were the Socialists. Extremists left and right were enemies, but not so relevant. Since the economic crisis after 2008, and especially since the migration crisis after 2015, the populists (mainly from the right) have increased in strength, while social media has helped them garner attention and create echo-chambers. Since 2017, the European Liberals have become more of a competitor, with Macron’s attempt to repeat on the EU level the total remodelling of the party system that he successfully managed in France. Finally, the Greens have now emerged as a serious competitor, at least in North Western member states.
    • Copy and original: in the debate about the proper centre right answer to populism, one often repeated statement stands out: If we try to copy the populists, the voters will always prefer the original to the copy. That is as often true as it is false. It just depends on the circumstances in place. But the dilemma can now be extended to our new struggle to come to grips with the popularity of the climate change issue and the rise of the Greens in some important member states. The challenge here is to address climate policy more intensively, but using tools and approaches of the centre right, not trying to copy the regulatory approaches of the Greens.
    • Maintaining unity: the EPP political family has seen a constant expansion since the 1980 in terms of member parties, which has automatically led to a wider variety of political standpoints. If this unity has now begun to falter (as in Spain and France, for example), the position of the EPP as the strongest political family is in serious jeopardy. Maintaining unity, however, presupposes defining and strengthening what still binds us together: fundamental values such as freedom/responsibility, subsidiarity etc. But maintaining unity can also mean saying goodbye to member parties which are endangering cohesion.


    Europe’s centre right has a number of classical areas of competence: first and foremost, these are security and economics – meaning defence and homeland security as well as fiscal prudence and policies leading to economic growth. Migration, the most important topic for many Europeans 2015-2018, has – to some extent – become an issue of competence for the centre right, at least more than the left. But in #EP2019, a number of new issues have emerged that are calling for more attention from the EPP political family:

    • Climate: there is near universal consensus that the climate topic is important, that it is here to stay and that the EPP so far has not excelled in climate policy. Having said that, it is still important to keep in mind that the boost for the Greens has happened only in a North-Western minority of member states: practically the entire South, as well as the East of the EU are not affected for the moment. And of course, climate policy may be replaced by other, even more urgent topics, in a few years, such as migration or the economy.
    • City-countryside gap: the growing divergence in lifestyles, socio-economic challenges and political attitudes couldn’t be more obvious. While taking into account the interests of city dwellers, the EPP political family would neglect the countryside at its own peril: France’s Yellow Vests are a case in point.
    • Middle class: the ‘squeezed middle’ – in terms of work-life-balance, education, gender equality, income/taxation etc., has been a favoured topic of many member parties in recent years. This should be maintained as a trademark.
    • Christian Europe: some member parties strongly favour this as a priority while others believe in a more eclectic message, focusing on a broader array of values, civic rights and an inclusive approach to other religions. It will be a challenge to create consensus on this.
    • Digital: the future of the internet, especially the balance between corporate-driven innovation, privacy, freedom and fighting abuse, is another issue that warrants more attention from the EPP.


    • Electoral coalitions: several successes (in Poland, for example) have shown that in specific contexts, such as small countries or constituencies with single or few seats, creating joint electoral lists with other political parties may be the only chance for the EPP parties to maintain or expand their strength.
    • Communication: a constant challenge for centre right parties, especially when faced with populists and Greens. This goes far beyond the right use of social media, and extends to using less bureaucratic language in general, and be more open to entertainment as a factor in politics. Being less boring and yet maintaining the EPP’s political salience is the challenge here.
    • Outreach to the young generation: in several member states (this time not only in the Northwest), the centre right is now risking to lose young voters on a scale last seen in Western Europe in the 1970s. This refers to policy issues (climate change, digital, education) but above all to styles of communication, transparency etc. as well as including more young candidates on electoral lists.
    • Personalities: without charismatic leaders appealing to large numbers of voters, the EPP has no future. That’s a so-called no-brainer. And yet, a direct succession from one charismatic leader to the next is the exception rather than the rule. Recruitment of leaders and smooth leadership transitions are areas for the EPP to work on.
    Roland Freudenstein Centre-Right Elections EU Member States European Union

    Roland Freudenstein

    After #EP2019: first points for a centre-right roadmap


    14 Jun 2019

  • Federico Ottavio Reho European Union

    Four Classical European federalisms: What to choose today?

    Europe out Loud

    09 May 2019

  • On the 1st of May 2004, the EU was enlarged by eight post-communist countries along with Malta and Cyprus. Today, we are quite obviously asking a number of questions: what has this massive European enlargement brought to these countries? And, on the other hand, how and in what way have the new member states enriched the EU?

    We should also ask what mistakes should be avoided in the future because, while the vision of Europe ‘whole, free and at peace’ has not yet been fulfilled, we are already facing the phenomenon of an East-West divide within the EU itself.

    These days my country Slovakia is taking stock of the first fifteen years of its merge with the West. This is happening just before the European elections, and, since January, I have held discussions with Slovak secondary school and university students, looking together with them for answers to the questions raised above.

    Slovakia is an ice-hockey obsessed country, so I borrowed ice-hockey parlance to assess my country’s membership of the EU, and I divided this fifteen-year period into three thirds.

    The first third: Honeymoon with the West

    In May 2004, the weather during the ceremony in Dublin was beautiful; the Slovak national flag was raised on one of the 25 flagpoles in the garden of the Irish President’s residence. It seemed as though the fair weather boosted our conviction that the future would be similarly cloudless. And, for a few years, this was indeed the case.

    Enlargement euphoria and the strong desire to emulate the West of Europe encouraged us to pursue deep structural reforms that transformed Slovakia into one of the economic leaders in the region. This great commitment to changing the country was completed through joining the Eurozone in 2009.

    Our strong ‘drive to score’ was also carried over into foreign policy, culminating with the Bush-Putin Summit held in 2005 in Bratislava. EU membership had consolidated our democracy and brought stability and prosperity to Slovakia, the region, and also the EU.

    The second third: Awakening

    Despite these auspicious beginnings, we soon woke up to the realisation that in this newly-united Europe we would not always be blessed with ‘good weather’. The first clouds had already started to gather right when Chancellor Schroeder’s government signed-off on an agreement with Russia to build the Nord Stream II pipeline.

    No regard was taken of the fact that the capacity of the existing pipeline leading through the CEE countries was more than sufficient. Later on, we would have to endure further storms, like the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

    The bailouts to Greece, granted in order to keep it in the Eurozone, were painful for us, the new member states. I did not understand the pressure exerted on us by the leaders of certain older member states, who failed to recognise the consequences of harsh economic reforms and structural changes in the post-communist countries.

    From one day to the next, we were asked to comply with the same demands as older and significantly richer member states. Just as we had managed to overcome our own existential difficulties, we instantly became embroiled in the existential difficulties of others – difficulties we had no part in causing.

    Not infrequently, the leaders of the CEE countries felt that when it came to serious decisions they were simply expected to play along, without being given a chance to influence those decisions in a more substantial way. This is how it played out in the case of the Greek loan facility, or in the case of the already mentioned North Stream II.

    The third third: Disenchantment

    The developments of recent years tied to migration flows have shown that these new member states are neither ready, nor willing to bear this common burden, or to put forward solutions. This status quo has no future and must be changed. The CEE countries must learn to better understand the solidarity principle.

    At the same time, older and more cosmopolitan countries must learn to better understand the completely different historical experience and degree of social conservatism that exists in this part of Europe.

    There are too many misunderstandings and too little real dialogue in the EU today, especially between East and West. There cannot be real dialogue if we do not acknowledge and respect of each other’s culture and history.

    An important takeaway drawn from the current climate of disenchantment in Europe has been the realisation that establishing a democracy is not a one-off event, it is an ongoing project that must be protected and nurtured each day.

    It is true that this does not apply only to Visegrad countries. Populism and extremism are also gaining a foothold in Europe’s advanced democracies. Therefore, the EU needs to become a true federation combining a strong but limited centre with strong members states.

    That said, there may also be light at the end of the tunnel for Slovakia. The squares crowded with people after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée brought down the prime minister and re-activated civil society, as well as mobilising the political participation of young people.

    Recently elected to the presidential office in Slovakia is a civil activist who managed to stand her ground against evil and prevailed against the odds. This trend must be fostered and encouraged by putting forward a new, attractive and forward-looking vision for the whole of the EU.

    I am convinced that such a vision has the potential to inspire and motivate us in the same way I was inspired by the vision of a Europe “ whole, free and at peace” in 1998. That year, I rode my bike across the country in the name of such a vision, calling on my fellow citizens to join me on the journey.

    I still remember how distant this vision seemed to me then, but the undying belief in that vision brought change to Slovakia – change for the better. In an era of similar challenges, the time has come to set out on a similar journey once again.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Enlargement EU Member States European Union Leadership

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    The Big Bang Enlargement at 15: lessons learned vs lessons applied


    30 Apr 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

  • In the run up to February’s EU-Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, the EU was criticised by major media outlets such as the Financial Times for conducting high-level diplomacy with Middle East strongmen. By engaging in summitry with autocrats, it was argued that the EU is legitimising them and undermining its own value-based foreign policy. However, the premise of this argument is wrong.

    Over the last number of years, the EU has become more pragmatic in the way it conducts international affairs, most notably by showing a cautious willingness to define and pursue an interest-based foreign policy instead of one based mainly on values. This pragmatic turn was reflected in the 2016 Global Strategy, which called for an EU foreign policy based on ‘principled pragmatism’ and resilience building in the EU’s neighbourhood rather than democracy promotion.

    Resilience refers to the ability of a society to withstand both internal and external pressures to its stability. It became a Brussels buzzword following the triple shock of the Arab Spring, the Ukraine conflict and the Mediterranean migration crisis. These events made the EU realise that democracy promotion did not necessarily always translate into stability around its borders, which it needs to guard itself against phenomena such as uncontrolled migration, Islamic terrorism and hybrid warfare.

    Some see that this pragmatic turn in EU foreign policy undermines the Union’s ability to promote values and principles such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights internationally. Furthermore, pragmatism or even realpolitik in EU foreign policy is seen to question the Union’s self-image as a postmodern normative power, a benign actor that uses the attractiveness of its norms and values to induce change in the world instead of hard power.

    However, the EU’s willingness to engage in summitry with a group of countries that Freedom House rates predominantly as “not free” is not in itself a negative phenomenon. Instead of undermining EU foreign policy, it suggests that the Union is slowly growing up strategically and distancing itself from a purely idealist way of dealing the world around it. This can be seen a positive development for three reasons.

    First, all international actors need to be concerned first and foremost about the security and prosperity of their own citizens, not value promotion beyond their territory. If the EU can accomplish this by engaging in summitry or deal making with unpleasant autocrats, without waiting until they become liberal democrats, then that is the prudent path to take.

    A good example of such pragmatism is the EU-Turkey deal in which the Union agreed to provide funds to Ankara in exchange for the latter’s help in stopping irregular migration across the Aegean. This might undermine the EU’s ability to project itself as a normative power, but the deal is in the best interests of its member states.

    Second, in its neighbourhood, the EU does not have the luxury of dealing only with “nice” regimes. Geography dictates that instability in countries with which the Union shares a land or maritime border will inevitably have ripple effects for the EU as well. This means that it cannot simply turn a blind eye to countries such as Egypt, Libya or Saudi Arabia, even though they are far from model democracies.

    Ignoring nasty regimes is easy when they are far away and strategically insignificant to one’s security, but not when they are on one’s doorstep and one needs them to take care of one’s interests.

    Third, value promotion has been a lowest common dominator EU foreign policy, not a strategic one. Given that EU foreign policy is conducted intergovernmentally, it is always a reflection of what the 28 member states can agree with each other. Quite often, they find it excruciatingly difficult to set common strategic objectives at the EU level, as the recent European cacophony over the political crisis in Venezuela again showed. However, it is relatively easy for them to support—at least rhetorically—the international promotion of the EU’s own values and principles.

    However, none of this is to say that the promotion of values and principles should not be an important element of EU foreign policy. It will continue to be so, not least because it is codified into the Lisbon Treaty as an objective of EU foreign policy. Furthermore, the Union should continue to promote its values and principles especially now given that great power competition is intensifying and the liberal international order is under unprecedented pressure.

    This is also why the EU needs to support the important work done by organisations such as the European Endowment for Democracy.

    The point is rather that value promotion should not be treated as the only or even the main goal of EU foreign policy. It is in nobody’s interest if the EU sees itself as a giant NGO that is more concerned about making the world outside its borders a better place than taking care of the security and prosperity of its citizens.

    For this reason and regardless of the optics of it, the Union’s willingness to talk to regimes that do not—to put it mildly—fully share its values and principles shows that it is taking modest steps to grow up strategically. This makes it a welcome development.

    Niklas Nováky European Union Foreign Policy Leadership

    Niklas Nováky

    The EU is growing up strategically


    14 Mar 2019

  • The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular (‘Migration Compact’ from now on) is an international agreement that has given rise to passions like no other recent global document. The Compact was signed in the morning of 10 December 2018 in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

    Uproar in Marrakech, quiet in New York

    The text of the Migration Compact stems from The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by the UN in 2016. This declaration was a result of decades of international efforts to bring a sense of order to global migration and refugee movements. One can look at the process started off by the New York Declaration as the first serious attempt for a global migration and refugee governance. The New York Declaration was adopted by 193 members of the UN, with no official record of dissent from any UN member.

    The Migration Compact has a non-identical twin brother, the Global Compact on Refugees (Refugee Compact), also a result of the diplomatic process started off by the New York Declaration. According to an informed source, the Refugee Compact has gone through the UN structures with little dissent, with only the US expressing a certain degree of disapproval. Barring a last-minute revolution, the Refugee Compact will be agreed by the UN General Assembly in New York around 17 December 2018,  a few days after the signing of the Migration Compact in Marrakech.

    The Migration Compact had been negotiated by 190 UN governments. The US withdrew from the negotiations in December 2017, Hungary in July 2018. Between the summer 2018 and the beginning of December 2018, several other countries announced they would not sign the Migration Compact. In Europe, these included Czechia, Austria, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria and Latvia.

    On 10 December in Marrakech, most governments in which the European People’s Party participates signed the Migration Compact. The impression is that all the governments with the EPP participation will be signing the Refugee Compact later this month.

    The document

    The Migration Compact is not legally binding, and the document stresses this multiple times. Nevertheless, according to some interpretations, the document could become customary international law in the same way that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights has become.

    But this remains a theoretical proposition. For a  document to become a part of customary international law, its practices would have to be ‘universally followed’ and obtain ‘widespread acceptance’. In addition, customary international law contains a concept of a persistent objector. If a state consistently and openly objects to an international norm, the norm is considered as not binding on that state.

    The document contains 23 objectives. Protecting human rights of migrants is a core element but so is the sovereignty of states.

    The Migration Compact does contain passages that may be problematic from the centre-right viewpoint. This includes the rights of migrants working in the informal economy, as opposed to the desirable insistence on employers declaring their employees and paying their taxes. Furthermore, the tone of inclusivity and the constant emphasis on migrant rights may not be to the liking of everyone on the European centre-right.

    However, most policy objectives of the Migration Compact are in line with the European Agenda on Migration  as well as the European People’s Party 2018 Congress document on migration, A Secure Europe. This comprises secure borders, minimising the drivers that compel people to leave their country of origin, the identification of migrants, criminalisation of migrant smuggling, prevention of human trafficking and government cooperation on migrant returns.

    Political controversy

    With the partial boycott of the Migration Compact, we are witnessing a peculiar situation. Most of the governments that are withholding their signature have negotiated the document until the last minute. The Slovak foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák resigned over his own Socialist-led government’s withdrawal from the Migration Compact. He had been instrumental in developing the document at the UN.

    The Belgian government did sign the Migration Pact but one of the coalition partners, the Flemish N-VA, withdrew from the cabinet over the issue.

    The fact that the UN Refugee Compact is not suffering the same wave of boycotts as the Migration Compact, gives us an insight into the curious world of politics of immigration in the West. The Refugee Compact might also be perceived as generating obligations on the signatory states, yet all the European UN members seem committed to signing the Refugee Compact later in December.

    Whether the governments who refused to put their signature to the Migration Compact have been negotiating in good or bad faith, is not up to me to decide. Likewise, it is not up to me to decide about domestic reasons for the boycott, such as the need to polarise national and European migration debates and to temporarily improve the standing of the governments in question vis-à-vis parts of their electorate.

    Attack on multilateralism and the weakening of the EU position

    The bigger picture is clear. The several governments’ boycott of the Migration Compact amounts to, once again, an attack on multilateralism. The Migration Compacts lays the foundations for global cooperation on migration. It offers multiple avenues for building trust between governments, thus ultimately leading to better migration policy outcomes for the EU and its members.

    Those European governments that refused to sign the Migration Compact will not be entitled to complain that third country governments do not cooperate when it comes to the registration of migrants, cooperation on border control and readmission of own nationals.

    The international position of the EU is weakened accordingly. The EU is currently striving to externalise migration controls by cooperating with third countries. It is difficult to see why a European country that wants to externalise migration controls would deliberately jeopardise its position vis-à-vis potential partners.

    Vít Novotný European Union Globalisation Immigration Migration

    Vít Novotný

    Boycotting the Migration Compact: a loss of credibility for the EU


    10 Dec 2018

  • 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

  • I say Europe, you say…?

    Our future. A lot of people focus on the past and the fact that Europe has brought us peace; today Europe is about our chance at having a voice in the world and being able to properly face the challenges of the future. Europe is our future. 

    You have been nominated for this interview by EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber and his question was: “What do you think could be the best way to open up what is sometimes perceived as the black box, the European decision-making process, to the people?”

    Chairman Weber has announced that he is entering the race within the EPP for the nomination for Spitzenkandidat. This nomination process is a clear-cut example of transparency in the run-up to the election of the President of the European Commission.

    Secondly, and I say this as Vice-President of the EPP for Relations with National Parliaments, we have to inform but also be informed by national parliaments. We need to know: what do they find important, how is their European debate taking shape and thirdly to take into account that there is a lot of frustration in Member States or amongst citizens about Brussels.

    These frustrations are caused by what are sometimes very technical things and not even political decisions. Therefore we should be a lot clearer in communicating to our citizens who makes which decisions here in Brussels and back home: we would have to clean up the comitology procedure to make it more transparent. 

    What do you perceive as the main long-term repercussions of the trade war with the US as regards to the Future of Europe?

    A trade war is always lose-lose. Trump, in this case, is not helping the people who actually voted for him and who work, for example, in car and steel factories. However, you do notice that Trump’s arrival in the White House coincides with  a more assertive policy from China when it comes to direct investments in Europe, and together with Putin’s divisive rule, in a way they are forcing Europe to take a more adult approach. That’s a good thing!

    There was a great Dutch football player, Johan Cruyff, who always said that every disadvantage has an advantage. The advantage of the current disadvantage, which is the difficult trade relationship with the US, is that Europe is growing up quickly.

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

    I had to bust many, I have to admit; I even had municipalities in the north of the Netherlands saying that they have been forced by the Commission to collect their garbage in a certain way. Obviously, this was not true at all.

    Perhaps the one that I got angry about recently is a funnier one. It was around Christmas time and in the Netherlands you often have the Salvation Army collecting money for people in need. So, for years, in a big shopping centre in Utrecht we had a Salvation Army guy dressed up as Santa Claus collecting money for the charity. And then, I saw an article in the local newspaper saying “Europe bans Christmas, charity fundraiser” and I thought: that can’t be true! I got really angry, got to the bottom of it and it turned out that it was the new owner of the shopping centre (a hedge fund, by the way), who in reality didn’t want the money raising to take place in his shopping centre. So we immediately busted that myth and corrected it.

    Having had an Erasmus-experience as a student yourself, in your view, what would be the main benefit of increasing the funding for the programme?

    Well, what is so healthy about Erasmus is that you are forced to look at your own Member State from the outside and see things from a different perspective. That’s always a very positive experience. I would like for as many people as possible to be able to have that opportunity. This is why the Parliament has always been pushing to increase its budget and the Commission got on board to initiate the increase for the next period.

    Personally, I would love to extend this experience not only to those who go to university, because they are the exception to the rule. In fact, most people don’t. They go to technical colleges after completing secondary school. So why not maybe come up with another format of Erasmus, find a way to also provide that experience to all the young people, not just university students.

    One of your Instagram posts shared an amusing insight into the experience of being a trainee in the Brussels bubble. Namely, you posted a photo of notes written by your intern having difficulties identifying between 751 MEPs. Recently, the EP Bureau voted on banning unpaid internships, what is your take on this?

    I have a bit of a double feeling about that because I started as an intern myself. I was working in Brussels part-time and I really wanted to work in the European Parliament, so I wrote to all the MEPs of my political party and I offered, on a part-time basis, to work for them for free just because I wanted this experience so much, next to my part-time job. In the end, one MEP offered me a paid internship, though initially I offered to volunteer.

    Therefore, I don’t think there’s a problem if someone is willing to do it on a voluntary basis and if it’s a really short period of time and a first working experience. However, I always pay my interns. What we have to tackle furthermore is abuse. There has been abuse in the sense that people are full-time working, either not paid for a long term or on a very low wage under the excuse of being hired as an intern, and this is not the way to go! We want to be a social market as well, so we have to give the right example ourselves.

    We are already less than a year away from the European Elections. Over the past few years support for the far-right has been increasing, as has been the case in the Netherlands. What can be done to counteract them and bring centre-right politics closer to the people?

    In a way, you actually saw this support going down after Brexit, same as the support for Nexit actually decreased after people saw what it actually means to leave the EU. But populism is on the rise everywhere in Europe, so also in the Netherlands. What helps is to show that a lot of these people, these politicians, they actually copy what voters say, which means that they are good at understanding, or like Clinton would say at “feeling the pain.” But they are not actually providing answers and delivering solutions, and we need to show that.

    I think a lot of people will grow tired of these new populist politicians rather soon, because people understand that though it’s nice that somebody feels your pain, you might want them to address the issues at stake as well, in which case they should maybe look at a trustworthy political party like the EPP.

    In one of your previous interviews, reflecting on Brexit, you have stated that Europe has always been sold as something economic, where you can calculate the benefits. Which vision for the Future of Europe should be championed to portray the EU as more than just that?

    That was pretty much a paraphrase of Delors saying that you don’t fall in love with the market. That’s just a part of the problem. One British colleague also said to me “we always told the Brits that they were entering a market”, but Europe is just so much more than that. I really think that Europe 1.0 was the Europe of 1945, 1952, 1957. It was really about war and peace between France and Germany and it was such a huge achievement.

    But, for the younger generation the European project is something they take for granted. Europe 2.0 emerged basically after the Wall fell. Indeed, that was the completion of the market and there was an enlargement and the zeitgeist was very economic.

    The Europe we’re in now is very much about the “European way of life”. How do we position ourselves, with a more assertive China, Trump starting a trade war, how much gas do we want from Russia, do we want to be so dependent? These questions will make Europe 3.0 much more about our voice in the world and assuring that we can maintain our “European way of life”.

    Considering that you are a passionate advocate of principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, how far have we come in adapting our EU corporate tax system to reflect these?

    The problem with the whole tax issue (don’t mention the “T” word) is that it is not a European competence. Small and medium enterprises have to pay their taxation, while the big tax giants pay in a very limited way or not at all and people are angry about that. So here you actually see a clash between something that is not a European competence and people asking us to make it a European competence.  So I think in these cases where these companies make a lot of money, some of them get our data for free, etc., they should take their responsibility as well with regards to paying tax, so that we can continue to be a social market economy.

    As a working mum, what are your “must haves” for your children’s schoolbags?

    Actually, I am pretty organised in getting their bag ready in the morning. What I essentially need is my phone because my phone is my lifeline to everything that goes on at home.

    Once during an EP Plenary I was seated in the front row, and there was a debate taking place with the Belgian Prime Minister, and I got a message from the babysitter asking about my son’s football training equipment.

    Not to complain, but I really think this doesn’t happen too often to my male colleagues. But the advantage of being a woman is that actually without even looking, I knew exactly where it was! So as long as I have my phone, the issue will get solved.

    If you had to spend your summer vacation with one colleague from the Parliament who would it be and why?

    You know, I think my colleagues are absolutely fantastic, but I did enjoy the fact that I didn’t see them for 3 whole weeks and I actually managed to catchup on my reading, enjoy nature and lovely French cuisine. So no, in that regard, I can’t imagine spending my holidays with them, I think it would be very unhealthy if I did!

    Choose one of the following: Belgian waffles or stroopwaffels?

    Cheese from all over Europe. I do not have a sweet tooth. Cheese anytime instead!

    ETIAS or Copyright Directive?

    Both are very important, but I would choose ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). Because it is of fundamental importance to actually show our citizens that we can be strong in protecting our borders, while simultaeously upholding our soft values, like bringing assistance to the refugees that really need it.

    Home baking or policy making?

    Policy making, of course! I am a politician after all, but, in a way, they have a lot in common. At home, baking helps me relax after all the policy making. Both can be messy jobs. But what counts is the end result, both in home baking and policy making. So that’s what you should judge us on.

    European People's Party European Union Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Esther de Lange

    I Say Europe

    17 Sep 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

  • 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

  • With Die Hauptstadt (The Capital), Austrian writer Robert Menasse has written the ‚first great EU novel‘, according to a review in POLITICO, and won the prestigious ‚Deutsche Buchpreis‘ for the political bestseller of the season in Germany and Austria.

    Since it plays mostly in Brussels and richly depicts Eurocrats, it has also caused a largely positive stir in the so-called “Brussels Bubble“. While the text has some merits in terms of its readability and humour, it is a complete failure as a political statement.

    “Ceci n’est pas un roman” is what Belgium’s surrealist genius René Magritte would have said about Menasse’s book. In that sense, Robert Menasse’s cri de coeur for Europe is not a novel, but a manifesto posing as a novel. Consequently, evaluating it is not a question of literary taste, but of political common sense.

    Dramatis personae include a Belgian holocaust survivor, a professor and a pig farmer from Vienna, a Belgian police detective, a Catholic killer from Poland and numerous Eurocrats from the EU institutions. The backbone of Menasse’s plot is the quest of those Eurocrats for the proper and most meaningful way to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Commission’s creation.

    His pet protagonists develop the idea that Auschwitz is the right place to do so. At the end, the bad guys – especially in the Council Secretariat and the member states – successfully nip the noble initiative in the bud. All this is embedded into a thriller plot with a murder at the beginning and a terror attack at the end, and a continental conspiracy in the middle.

    To begin on a positive note: Menasse’s book is not without its merits. He spent years living in Brussels to prepare the writing, and this is apparent in the detail of place descriptions and the biographies and personalities of the protagonists for which he conducted dozens of in-depth interviews. For a novelist to give the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels a face, is a laudable undertaking.

    And he is entertaining. Take, for example, the pig as leitmotif of the entire narrative. Moreover, Menasse pretty successfully inserts rudimentary explanations of Brussels decision-making into a fictional plot. Finally, his attempts to include contemporary Eurodebates in the dialogues of his characters is worth acknowledging.

    While the text has some merits in terms of its readability and humour, it is a complete failure as a political statement.

    But let’s take a look at Menasse’s politics. To put his central message in a nutshell: nationalism always culminates in a holocaust, and history’s most important lesson is to overcome the nations of Europe in a unitary state whose avantgarde is the European Commission in Brussels. In other words: the only valid answer to Auschwitz is a European Republic!

    It’s no coincidence that he repeats verbatim the thesis of German political pundit Ulrike Guerot, elaborated in two books 2016 and 2017: one market, one currency, one democracy – even at the price of a “civil war“ at least metaphorically.

    At this point, one might reply that history’s best answer to Auschwitz is the State of Israel, or, more precisely: the logical consequence of murderous antisemitism (which has been around for a thousand years, i.e. longer than modern nation states) is the creation of a Jewish state capable of defending itself. But that’s a separate debate.

    For Menasse, the answer to all of the old continent’s ills is the mantra of: More Europe!, i.e. ever more competences for the central institutions until there is only one European state left. And when people (in the novel as well as in real life) answer that Europe’s nations cannot and should not be abolished, he replies blandly that around 1800, that’s what conservatives answered about slavery.

    A smart move by Menasse but an absurd reply when keeping in mind that the modern nation state is a child of the enlightenment, and that in the last 300 years, it has brought forth the best as well as the worst in people – just like religion. The nation state has also weathered all attempts to make it obsolete, such as marxist internationalism, pan-slavism and other ethnocentric movements.

    Quite arguably, it’s the attempt to abolish Europe’s nations that would give a boost to national populism and end in a break-up of the Union. In reality, less Europe is actually more – that is my personal lesson of over 15 years in different Brussels institutions. It is not a weakness, but the decisive strength of the European integration process is that it hedges in Europe’s nation states and pools elements of their sovereignty instead of abolishing them.

    On economics, Robert Menasse staunchly defends classical leftist ideas: he despises austerity, believes in grandious public investments and glorifies a European welfare state.

    All these are legitimate views (although opposed to mine) but what riles me is Menasse’s clearly expressed world view in which only people with leftist ideas such as the above can be idealists whereas people with more conservative views exclusively appear as lobbyists‘ who are interested in a lot of things but never in the common good.

    Of course, Menasse is in good company with this totally unquestioned assumption. The entire post-1968 intellectual Left is built on this idea. But that doesn’t make it any more legitimate.

    The point at which Menasse completely discredits himself is the utterly bizarre character of the Polish Christian killer, one of the book’s central protagonists. He is central to the plot because his murder operation at the beginning and escape through Europe, defines the entire story and gives it much of its suspense.

    This ‚żołnierz Chrystusa‘ (soldier of Christ) is steeped in the tragic insurgent tradition of his ancestors and belongs to an ultra secret Catholic sect whose headquarters are located in the catacombs under the city of Poznan. Its purpose is to pre-emptively and extralegally kill potential terrorists, in cooperation with NATO.

    Consequently, NATO also abruptly ends the police investigation of the murder and has the Belgian police destroy all evidence. If Dan Brown comes up with comparable ideas in novels such as ‚The Da Vinci Code‘, one may still define this as fictional thriller writing. But in Menasse’s case, these extravagent tales require closer scrutiny because they form an integral part of his political manifesto.

    Here is where the three tendencies combine: a resentful anti-americanism, West European condescension towards Central Europe and a politically correct appeasement of Islamism. According to his own words, Menasse introduced the character of the ‚Soldier of Christ‘ and his continental conspiracy only in order to show that it’s not only Muslims who commit religiously motivated acts of violence.

    But unless you believe that Anders Breivik was part of a hitherto undiscovered Vatican conspiracy, there simply are no killers in the Catholic Church, at least for a couple of centuries now, neither in Brussels nor anywhere else in Europe. However, numerous jihadist killers have originated in Molenbeek, a Brussels neighbourhood which is omitted from Menasse’s book despite the shadow it has cast over Brussels in recent years.

    Jihadist terrorism receives only hush-hush mentions on the book’s final pages, in a rather listlessy inserted terror attack. The administrative chaos and police sloppiness, the tolerance of the intolerable and the hare-brained multiculturalism which led to the real life attacks of 2016 (and which are very much part of life in Brussels today) do not appear in Menasse’s manifesto.

    Robert Menasse feigns openness and tolerance, but in the end presents a firmly closed, leftist West European world view. To Menasse, the critics of this world view are at times an existential threat to Europe and at times just a laughable nuisance. But they are never morally legitimate.

    To me, this is an ominous way to undermine our conetmporary understanding and experience of European integration. Less demonisation and more listening  would not only be a great antidote to the fetishism of ‚More Europe!‘, whilst also being a brilliant way to immunise Europe against Auschwitz-style facism and other forms of fanaticism. 

    Roland Freudenstein European Union Society

    Roland Freudenstein

    Robert Menasse’s ‚The Capital‘ – How not to defend European integration


    06 Feb 2018

  • In a reflection paper intended to generate debate among euro-area governments, the European Commission has put forward ideas on what could be done to deepen the Economic and Monetary Union by 2025. One of the ideas outlined by the Commission is the creation of a euro-area budget.

    This article reviews the key issues that are relevant in the discussion on establishing such a budget; outlines the possible functions of such a budget, such as incentivising structural reforms or ensuring macro-stabilisation; and discusses the issues of size, funding, moral hazard and governance, while touching upon the role of non-euro-area member states.

    The article concludes with the assertion that the answer to this question is essentially political in nature and could constitute an example of how member states are ready to integrate further, while giving non-euro-area member states the opportunity to participate.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Siegfried Mureşan European Union Eurozone Macroeconomics

    Siegfried Mureşan

    Prospects for a euro-area budget: an analytical outline


    19 Dec 2017

  • The Economic and Monetary Union remains incomplete and vulnerable. The current economic and political climate offers a window of opportunity to further deepen this Union in 2018. Completing the banking union and creating a roadmap for a capital markets union are both essential.

    One of the missing building blocks is a minister of finance and economic reform for the eurozone. This minister should have the powers and democratic legitimacy to better enforce the rules on budgetary and macroeconomic discipline. He or she should also be responsible for managing a budget line for the eurozone that can act as a countercyclical buffer when monetary policy and national fiscal policy are insufficient.

    This budget line, together with the European Structural Investment Funds, should also act as an instrument for enforcing and supporting structural economic reforms aimed at making the national economies more resilient to external shocks.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Hans Geeroms European Union Eurozone Macroeconomics

    Hans Geeroms

    Why the eurozone needs a minister of finance and economic reform


    05 Dec 2017

  • Last Friday, the Czechs and the Slovaks commemorated the fall of Communist totalitarianism and the advent of a new era of freedom and democracy. We reflect on the events of November 17th and ask ourselves: was it all worth it? Are we living the life we imagined? Some go further and question whether we are really better off than we were under totalitarianism.

    While these questions may be disconcerting, we should not be afraid of asking them. Instead, we should worry about our unwillingness to address them. Why is it that the post-November development often leaves a bad taste in our mouths? Why is it that we sometimes experience disappointment, or even fear and regret?

    One of the reasons is that we have not yet met the expectations of 28 years ago. Euphoria over the fall of totalitarianism coupled with our lack of experience with the free world meant we were ill-prepared for the obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to integrate ourselves into this new reality.

    Another reason for this frustration is the turbulence that the free world itself has experienced over the last quarter of a century. This turbulence has forced us to re-think many of the things we took for granted about the Free World. That the 2008 Economic and Financial Crisis had its origins in the USA is significant.

    For decades, the US had stood as a symbol of freedom, civil liberties and prosperity for the freedom-loving people behind the Iron Curtain. Central to this was the belief that the President of the United States stood as the natural leader of the democratic world. Today we are confronted with the reality that this may no longer be the case.

    We wanted the world to be open to us, and for borders to become a thing of the past. But massive waves of migration and numerous terrorist attacks are leading people to demand that borders be closed once more and new fences be built. Throughout its existence, the EU has expanded and its membership has grown. Now, as we are faced with the exit of the United Kingdom we must acknowledge that this too is no longer guaranteed.  

    How do we find our bearings in this maze of tumultuous, often unforeseen, developments? In the past, we had a clear idea: to free ourselves from totalitarianism and plan our economy we joined the OECD, NATO and the EU. The goal was clear, and so was the way. Today, when we are facing truly unprecedented challenges, when unrest and instability are so present in our European neighborhood, we seem to be losing our bearings. Today the goal is not as clear.

    Last week, I had a peculiar experience. I got lost on my way to a conference I was due to open. After walking in the wrong direction for close to an hour, it transpired that I had inadvertently inserted the wrong hotel name into my smartphone. I believe my experience helps me to articulate an essential point: the reasons for our dissatisfaction and frustration are usually our own failures and mistakes. It is not the essence of the free world. We feel frustration because, although we cherish freedom, we are avoiding its unshakeable cost – accountability.

    We are yet to grasp that the EU is not “them” while Slovakia is “us”. “Us” now includes the EU and NATO. The government is engaged in a war of words with the opposition over whether or not we should be part of the core of the EU. However, neither side has said that it is also up to us: the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Poles, and the Hungarians to proactively shape such a core.

    In the aftermath of the 2006 General Election, a prominent Slovak political writer stated that “even the losers have a right to their government”. No doubt they do. However, the winners must be aware of their responsibility if they leave the governance to the losers. As liberal-minded people, we must be aware that freedom is inseparable from responsibility and the readiness to assume that responsibility is what we collectively strive for.

    Globalisation, the fourth industrial revolution, and the proliferation of social media has expanded the space of our freedoms, but equally it has enhanced the degree of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, the space of ​​these new freedoms can be misused; for instance, by spreading misinformation or by committing cyberattacks.

    There is no doubt that the world has changed since November 17th 1989. There is no doubt that it will continue to change in the future. But neither is there any doubt that the best answer to both present and future challenges will be our ability and readiness to safeguard our freedoms, and to assume responsibility. Responsibility for what we stand for and for our decisions.

    This is true for us as individuals, this is true for Slovakia, and also for the EU. It is also true for regional cooperation, for the Visegrad Group. Regional groupings can only play a positive role by encouraging inclusive dialogue rather than pursuing individual interests or generating imagined conflicts.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    The Velvet Revolution at 28: from euphoria to responsibility


    20 Nov 2017

  • European Allies are increasingly well positioned, in economic and fiscal terms, to opt to play a full role as NATO members in developing stronger defence capabilities. This is timely, given Russia’s resurgence and ongoing security challenges to Europe’s South.

    Europe is gradually adapting to a new normal, consisting of an assertive Russia, which challenges Western interests and values in both the East and the South, and ongoing threats from Islamist non-state actors across Northern Africa and the wider Middle East.

    Prior to 2014, in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2009, NATO Allies had engaged in widespread cuts to defence spending. This was largely driven by fiscal policy pressures, as public debt and deficit levels rose strongly as a result of the 2008 financial crisis and of the subsequent Great Recession.

    The vast majority of European Allies are also EU Member States, and thus subject to obligations under EU law to maintain their public debt-to-GDP levels below 60% of GDP, and their annual fiscal balances, if in deficit, to no worse than 3% of GDP.

    In recent academic research[1], I defined an EU Member State’s fiscal capacity as the ability to increase total public spending while complying with the EU’s 60% rule for the public debt-to-GDP ratio.

    I then demonstrated that, over the 2008-2016 period, Allies had tended to increase defence spending more than others (or to at least decrease it less than others) if they had greater fiscal capacity.

    I also showed that Allies had tended to increase defence spending more than others if they were located closer to stationed or deployed military forces of the Russian Federation, and if they had a land border with the Russian Federation. Recent data illustrates the impact of these two factors on the extent to which Allies have increased their defence spending, in real terms, between 2014 and 2017, see Chart 1.

    Chart 1: Increases in defence spending (2014-2017) versus public debt ratios in 2014

    The largest increases have occurred in nations that both are closer to Russian forces and benefit from lower public debt-to-GDP ratios. Conversely, increases have been much more subdued – and in the cases of Belgium and Croatia even negative – among Allies who suffered from high public debt levels in 2014 and are geographically further removed from Russian military forces.

    A third effect is at play, namely how close individual Allies were to NATO’s 2% guideline in 2014. The UK, France, Greece, Estonia and Poland were either above or quite close to 2% in 2014, thus explaining their comparatively lower real increases in defence spending since that time. Increases are particularly large in Lithuania and Latvia, which had low levels of defence spending as a percentage of GDP in 2014.

    Prospects for a fulfilment of NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge?

    At NATO’s 2014 Summit in Wales, Allies had committed to either remain above 2% if already at that level or, for those that were not, to “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade”. In light of the relationships that were documented above, what prospects do Allies have to respect their commitment, given likely economic and fiscal prospects?

    Focusing on the 17 NATO Allies that are also EU Member States and which, according to the latest estimates published by NATO, are expected to still be below the 2% guideline in 2017, one finds that there is good news overall. Based on the projections from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, October 2017 edition, the public debt-to-GDP ratios of all 17 nations are projected to fall, as compared to their 2016 ratios, by 2022.

    By that year, 9 out of the 17 nations should be below 60%, as opposed to 7 today. The two nations that are expected to successfully cross below the 60% threshold are Germany and the Netherlands.

    Chart 2: Public debt-to-GDP ratios: 2016 (actual) and 2022 (projected)

    For the 9 nations that are projected to reach a public debt-to-GDP ratio of less than 60% by 2022, it should be particularly easy to raise defence spending up to 2% of GDP, as this could be achieved purely through higher deficit and debt levels, for which there is leeway. Such an approach would require no other sacrifices in fiscal and budgetary terms – neither any increases of the tax burden as a share of GDP, nor any compression of non-defence spending as a share of GDP.

    For those nations that are projected to still be above 60% of GDP by 2022, raising defence spending to 2% of GDP would still be possible, but this would require greater sacrifices, e.g. tax burden increases and/or compression of other public spending, if one assumes that these nations would simultaneously be seeking to reduce their public debt-to-GDP ratios by at least as much as the IMF projects.

    This is especially true for those Allies which have particularly high debt ratios and which are still far below the 2% guideline – namely Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and Spain.

    For these four nations, one could argue that both greater debt reduction efforts and greater defence spending efforts would be conducive to national security, and ultimately to Europe’s collective security. Overall, however, most European Allies face improving fiscal prospects and a greater margin of manoeuvre to reach the goals they committed to at the Wales Summit.

    Edward Hunter CHRISTIE is a Defence Economist at NATO. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of NATO or of Allied governments.
    [1] Edward Hunter Christie (2017): The Demand for Military Expenditure in Europe: The Role of Fiscal Space in the Context of a Resurgent Russia, Defence and Peace Economics, DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2017.1373542

    Edward Hunter Christie Defence European Union Foreign Policy

    Edward Hunter Christie

    Do European Allies have the economic and fiscal capacity to fulfill their NATO commitments?


    14 Nov 2017

  • 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

  • For Europe, four security challenges predominate: Russian revanchism, Islamist terrorism, the migrant crisis, and the associated problems of civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and North Africa.

    For India, the environment looks very different. Its two most important security challenges are cross-border terrorism from Pakistan-based militant groups, often sponsored by the Pakistani intelligence services, and the steady growth of China’s economic and military presence along India’s land and maritime borders, including as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

    These differing priorities risk pushing Europe and India in different directions. India’s hope is that an improved US–Russia relationship will create a thaw in Europe, allowing all parties—India, Europe and the US—to focus on addressing China’s rise. But there is little sign of such a shift at present. However, there is considerable room for greater convergence on a range of issues, such as maritime security, Afghanistan and counterterrorism.

    Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Shashank Joshi Defence European Union Middle East Security

    Shashank Joshi

    The prospects for EU–India security cooperation


    30 Oct 2017

  • I say Europe, you say…?


    In our last interview, Eva Maydell’s question to you was: what is your vision for Europe in 2040?

    In 2040 the European Union will be more integrated in some areas, such as defence and security. Europe will be stronger as a trading block, and its role in the world political scene will also be strengthened because of increased unity. We have improved considerably our internal market, so that it generates more prosperity and jobs. There has been a significant convergence between the Member States in terms of social justice and fairness – mostly because of the measures the Member States have taken themselves, but also because of what the EU has done.

    Do you think now is the time to push for an EU defence co-operation? Why?

    Yes, it is the right time to further develop EU defence cooperation, because no country can on its own afford to invest sufficiently in security and defence. It makes sense to pool resources together. Also, more efficient use of existing resources can strengthen security in Europe. Furthermore, there is a whole range of new threats, such as terrorism and cyberattacks, which need more European cooperation.

    Is there any Finish foods which you love but find it is impossible to get anywhere else?

    Warm-smoked salmon.

    The autumn season ahead is sure to be a busy one, what will you be mainly focused on?

    I will be focused on 2 things: the EU defence policy and the trade agenda.

    What was the last movie you saw?

    It was a children’s movie, Inside Out.

    What is your biggest Brexit worry?

    That there is no solution.

    You have now been 3 years as Vice-President of the Commission – what do you enjoy most about the job?

    I enjoy the most the feeling that I can work for a more integrated and unified Europe. The feeling when I can see that concrete measures open up new opportunities for people and companies throughout Europe.

    What do you think is the single greatest benefit of being a citizen of the EU?

    The whole Europe, it’s all 28 Member States are as free and as achievable for everyone as one’s home country.

    If you could share a meal with one celebrity you haven’t met yet, who would you pick?

    President Trump.

    How is the #investEU plan working? Can you give us a couple of examples?

    The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) functions well. Already over 460 000 European SMEs can get financing through EFSI. The Investment Project Portal is up and running to match investors with project promoters, so that projects can find financers. We have lowered capital charges of insurance companies so that they can invest easier in infrastructure.

    Are you keeping up with any TV series at the moment?

    House of Cards. 

    Do you like to cook? Are there any signature Katainen dishes?

    I love cooking. My signature dishes are wild game food and warm-smoked salmon.

    What do you remember most fondly about your Erasmus experience and why would you recommend young students to go on an Erasmus today?

    Erasmus changed my life completely. It gave me a view from living in a multicultural environment, surrounded by fellow students from various countries. It also strengthened my self-confidence and gave me a feeling that Europe is open for me.

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

    I would like to suggest MEP Roberta Metsola. My question to her is: what are your 3 key themes for the future development of the EU?

    Centre-Right Economy European People's Party European Union Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Jyrki Katainen

    I Say Europe

    18 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

  • Federico Ottavio Reho European Union Euroscepticism

    The European project: leap forward or restoration?

    Europe out Loud

    16 Oct 2017

  • There is not only a clash among civilisations. There is a clash within the West: between the elites and the people, between globalists and the nationalists, between universalists and localists. It has its roots in two different kinds of enlightenments – the Continental and the British. The center-right should embrace the British enlightenment and put trust in the reason of the people not in the reason of one man. Building the future institutions of Europe should be based on people’s sense of European identity which needs to be developed in advance of any major changes to European political structures.

    Two competing narratives have been framing the debate after the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism. The first was “the end of history” as argued by Francis Fukuyama. The second was that of “the clash of civilisations” by Samuel P. Huntington.

    The end of history has been proven wrong in the international context. The clashes, particularly between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Civilization returned in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia.

    The clash between Islam and all other civilisations is leaving bloodstains not only at the external borders of the Islamic civilization but also within countries where Islam is a minority: in the US, Spain, UK, Belgium, France, Germany we are witnessing a series of terrorist attacks.

    Until recently, however, it would seem that the history ended at least within the Western Civilisation. That the societal model framed by human rights, rule of law and liberal democracy won and that it is only a matter of time, will and (sometimes military intervention) that it would spread to the rest of the world. Well, with the surge of the so-called populism, it appears that the history did not even end within the West.

    The clash within

    There is a clash within the Western civilisation between the elites and the people, between the globalists and the nationalists, between multiculturalists and monoculturalists. More elaborated framings of the clash include anywheres vs. somewheres[1], false individualism vs. true individualism[2], French vs. British enlightenment[3] and left vs. right moral foundations[4].

    Actually, the clash is between the Western Civilisation and an emerging universal, global civilization that is uncomfortable with the very notion of the existence of the West and the Western Civilisation, its philosophical and religious roots.

    A new civilisation is emerging within the West that is breaking from Western tradition and its transcendent base. It is aspiring to be global, present on the whole Gaia, not limited by geography, race or the traditions of its source civilisation.

    It is based on universalism, multiculturalism, environmentalism and borrows shallow philosophical and religious snapshots from all around the world.

    Haidt[5] would have claimed it is attractive to people with weak “group cohesion” moral foundations of authority, loyalty and sanctity. It considers itself cosmopolitan, modern, progressive and enlightened while its opponents are portrayed as rural, backward and conservative.

    What side for the conservative-liberal?

    What should be the position of a conservative-liberal in this clash? Particularly the work of Hayek and Himmelfarb offers a solid foundation – Hayek for those leaning towards a classical liberal side and Himmelfarb for the conservatives. The left will instead read Descartes, Rousseau, Marx and Marcuse.

    In his essay on individualism, Hayek writes about two kinds of individualism, the false and the true one. The false individualism – one could also call it a vulgar individualism – puts trust in an individual human mind, in individual reason that is powerful enough to come up with superior ideas on how society should be organised than the average plebeians can.

    True individualism, on the other hand, argues that the sum of the reason of all people is larger than that of any individual or group. That the results achieved by a society of free reasonable individuals can produce results that are beyond the understanding of any single individual. Much like the invisible hand of the market is more efficient in allocating resources, the “invisible hand of morality” is more efficient in organizing the society than the “engineers of society”.

    Which some politicians and some dictators would like to be. Hayek advises that the formal rules that explicitly define the functioning of a society should not do much more but to encode the principles that have established themselves through the spontaneous collaborative processes.

    This approach goes against the championing of human reason that is supposed to be the main result of the enlightenment. Himmelfarb takes Hayek’s point to its historical root.

    The vulgar individualism has its roots in the French enlightenment that indeed praised human reason and rejected faith, superstition and customs as an argument in societal problem solving. In the French enlightenment, pure reason was put in conflict against the church and faith.

    It has this idea that human reason can engineer society, redefine relations in the society, even replace a seven-day week with ten-day week, because it is easier to scientifically compute time that way. The idea that brilliant reason that create better societies has provided the philosophical basis for the French revolution and all totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

    Interestingly, no such regimes ever appeared in societies that were shaped not by the French but by the British enlightenment. Which, by the way, did not position reason against faith.

    On the contrary, it complemented reason with social virtues, or in the words of Adam Smith, moral sentiments, that bind people together. Virtue in dealing with other people and humility about the power of individual reason to plan or engineer society lead to respect of tradition and feelings. 

    Unfortunately, with a bit more self-interested US and Britain in exit, the EU is losing advocacy of that kind of enlightenment. Europe is left with the French trust in human reason and the German efficiency to implement the brilliant ideas it will come up with.


    Hayek and Himmelfarb tell essentially the same story: that the vanity of human reason is dangerous when an individual or an elite wants to redesign or reshape institutions that have been evolving for centuries as a result of spontaneous collaboration among people. People did use their reason but also their morals to create and give meaning to institutions such as private property, work, marriage, and nation state.

    Changing, dismantling or replacing them too quickly – perhaps based on a thin albeit democratic majority instead of broad acceptance – had tragic consequences in the past. It is the role of the conservatives to prevent that.

    Less tragic but nevertheless negative was also sticking to ways that times have surpassed. The most important words in the recent Merkel speeches are “we Europeans”.

    These two words need to be repeated and repeated for decades. When they sink in, when European identity is established and present in the Europeans, the European Union will be able to get elements of a nation state that go beyond the common market and common border protection.

    European conservatives should be pushing in that direction – not by pushing the institutional innovation but instead the European identity. In this way and ever closer union will be a result of spontaneous collaboration among Europeans and not a project of a political elite.

    Conservatives cannot be louder than the “progressives” asking for more Europe. But we can be more reasonable and more realistic.

    [1] Goodhart D. (2017). The Road to Somewhere: The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, C Hurst & Co.

    [2] Hayek F.A. (1948) Individualism and Economic Order, University of Chicago Press.

    [3] Himmelfarb G. (2017) The road to modernity, Vintage Books.

    [4] Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage.

    [5] Ibid.

    Žiga Turk Centre-Right European Union Values

    Žiga Turk

    The clash within our civilisation


    11 Sep 2017

  • Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency has been welcomed as a ray of spring sunlight in the cloudy skies of Brussels. It is believed to be the first salvo of a mainstream counteroffensive against the insurgent forces of populism in Europe. Since his first visit to Berlin last May, Macron made it clear that his European ambitions pass through a revitalisation of the Franco-German relationship, long debilitated by the imbalance between the two historic partners.

    In the short term, Macron’s relaunch of European integration pursues three objectives: the creation of common European rules on asylum, stronger reciprocity in trade with external partners and new rules to stop the ‘social dumping’ effect of posted workers from Central and Eastern Europe.

    Although Macron’s rhetorical virtues managed to present this last demand as impeccably European, in practice it can only amount to further restrictions on the free movement of services and people, two fundamental EU freedoms much resented by French  – and British – public opinion.   

    However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure.

    In the long term, the President wants a eurozone budget to promote investments, a eurozone finance minister to administer it and a eurozone parliament to legitimise both. These plans may require not only changes in the EU treaties, which the President has not excluded, but also in Germany’s constitution.

    A credible French leader with an ambitious European agenda is surely good news for the old continent, whose unity has shown in recent years to be very fragile and in need of new safeguards. However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure. There are two serious reasons to harbour such fears.

    The first is the potentially divisive nature of many French ideas about the future of Europe. Two of them, a weak commitment to the free movement of services and people and a tendency to focus on integrating the eurozone without much attention to the interests of the euro-outs, are particularly problematic.

    The former is an old thorn in France’s relationship with the EU, at least since the bogeyman of the ‘Polish plumber’ contributed to its rejection of the constitutional treaty in 2005. Since then, no pro-EU politician in the country has really been able to convincingly defend free movement without adding a plethora of qualifications about ‘social dumping’ and ‘fairness’ that are difficult to digest in Central and Eastern Europe. Emmanuel Macron is no exception here.

    The latter stems from the French tradition of economic ‘dirigisme’, which makes the notion of a ‘depoliticized’ currency based on constitutional rules and market discipline incomprehensible to the French way of thinking. Hence the insistent demands for a ‘managed’ currency, one complemented by an economic government responsible for promoting investment and, in the long run, harmonizing social standards in order to prevent, once more, ‘social dumping’ and enforce ‘fair competition’.

    Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.

    Those are highly divisive ideas that will prove potentially difficult to reconcile with the pursuit of unity among the EU27 – not just the EU19 – after Brexit. Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.

    The second reason is the geopolitical implications of France’s ambition to restore the Franco-German axis to its former role as the engine of European integration. French elites have gradually understood that there are structural reasons why Germany has come to play a more central role than France in Europe. Its good economic performance is one of them, and the economic and demographic consequences of reunification are another.

    However, the main reason is the geopolitics of the 2004 enlargement: Germany is the pivotal player because it is the guarantor of Central and Eastern Europe’s participation in the European project and because the EU membership of this region has given it a much larger playing ground on which to build its coalitions. This was a momentous change from previous decades: as long as the European project was limited to a small group of Western and Southern European countries, France was inevitably the pivotal partner of Germany.

    The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe. Mitterand, who was certainly one of them, tried to counter this tendency by proposing to include countries newly freed by the communist yoke in a broad confederation within which the European Community would have retained its inner balance.

    Today the only way for France to regain its geopolitical centrality is for the European project to be recentered on its western and southern core. This is well captured by Macron’s plans on the future of Europe, which de facto amounts to de-emphasising the single market, limiting free movement, and investing much political capital on integrating the euro zone.

    The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe. 

    If French demands are taken up by Germany, the risk is that the project will tacitly refocus in a direction that weakens, not strengthens continental unity. Germany’s historic mission is to lead the continent towards a model of unity that is sustainable and acceptable to everyone. The adoption of Macron’s agenda implies the exact opposite.

    Federico Ottavio Reho Eastern Europe Enlargement EU Member States European Union Leadership

    Federico Ottavio Reho

    Macron’s vision will split the EU, not unite it


    08 Jun 2017

  • China first became an active and visible player in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the 1950s, when it worked together with the region to stop a possible Soviet invasion of Poland in October 1956. This strong relationship was later dismantled due to the Sino-Soviet split and the volatile domestic situation in China (the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution).

    It is only since 2012 that China has become active in the region again, now as an emerging global power with a strategy and new investment initiatives in play: first the 16 + 1 framework and now the Belt and Road Initiative as well. Does China consider the CEE countries to be its new playground, or test area, within the EU? Or does it instead see the region as a gatekeeper that can help it get a foot in the door to the West?

    China has a vision, a pragmatic approach and political will, but the implementation of this vision has been weak. While several existing mechanisms offer new potential, they have so far only been partially exploited, due to the different business mentalities of both sides, as well as many other obstacles. China is opening up opportunities for CEE, but the latter must be better prepared for China’s new activities.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Bogdan Góralczyk EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy Globalisation

    Bogdan Góralczyk

    China’s interests in Central and Eastern Europe: enter the dragon


    27 May 2017

  • For the first time the EU has reached not just a stopping point, but a possible turning point. The Brexit decision has only made this more evident. Using the current crisis for a ‘great leap forward’ towards ever closer ‘political union’ hardly seems realistic, even in the absence of the notorious British opposition.

    Even the member states that are most ardently calling for a ‘political union’ do not agree on what that should actually mean. Using the examples of France and Germany and their seemingly identical calls for a ‘fiscal union’ of the eurozone, this article shows that the two countries have contrasting interpretations of what such a union should do, and how.

    Both the French ideal of a voluntarist ‘economic government’ of the eurozone and the German model of a rules-based ‘economic constitution’ would require substantial changes to the EU treaties, for which there is no real hope of democratic consent. The legitimacy challenge has thus become both more urgent and more difficult to overcome.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Michael Wohlgemuth Democracy European Union Eurozone Integration

    Michael Wohlgemuth

    Political union and the legitimacy challenge


    24 May 2017

  • This article argues that the traditional European narrative based on the rhetoric of progress, openness, ‘an ever closer union’ and the ever greater sharing of sovereignty has lost traction with a significant percentage of the European electorate, who are gripped by frustration, insecurity and disarray. It sketches the broad lines of a new Europeanism, arguably one that would be better equipped to deal with populism and identity politics. It makes the case for a ‘leaner Europe’, less bureaucratic and intrusive, but also more openly political and culturally grounded.

    Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Federico Ottavio Reho EU Member States European Union Eurozone Integration

    Federico Ottavio Reho

    A new Europeanism before it is too late


    11 May 2017

  • 1. France and Europe are still troubled by political extremism and populism

    And also by a growing hostility towards traditional institutions. Traditional political parties and politicians were and are afraid to address the problems which worry people the most. The reason for it is that their resolution is usually painful. Some leaders are afraid that embracing such solutions would cost them voters’ support. However, the failure to address those problems strengthens the extremists, and standard politicians lose ground anyway. It is imperative to break this vicious circle. This can only be achieved through undertaking concrete actions, and delivering concrete results.

    2. France suffers from massive youth unemployment, but also from illegal immigration

    Whereas, when addressing economic problems, the President needs the involvement of parliament (key reforms have generally the form of laws), this is much less the case in the area of security. The President can act with a relatively high degree of autonomy, regardless of the outcome of the June parliamentary elections and the September elections for the Senate.

    3. Immigration from Africa is mainly Europe’s problem

    Europe will have to deal with massive migration waves of people from Africa; they are heading mainly towards Europe, and will continue do so also in the future. Allegedly, 30% of inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa are considering emigration already now.

    4. The EU struggles with internal divisions

    Due primarily, but not only, to the divergence of approaches of individual countries to the issue of migration. A reinforced franco-german axis will be capital to refuel the engine of European integration

    5. The EU has been psychologically impacted by the UK’s exit from the Union

    Unity, prudence, and European leadership will be essential in the tough negotiation process ahead.

    6. The transatlantic partnership is and will be essential for the global order

    The EU must take concrete steps to convince the United States that it has the capability to become and actually stand in the future as a proactive partner of the US in the transatlantic alliance, irrespective of who is the president of the United States.

    7. The world, and Europe in particular, must address the alarming humanitarian situation in Libya and Syria

    Libya has become not only a funnel for African migrants into Europe; it is also an area of political and thus of security vacuum. That vacuum has been taken advantage of by gangster groups that are apprehending migrants and then subject them to ill-treatment in close communities.

    Concentration camps were recently mentioned also by Pope Francis. While the EU theoretically considers setting up safe zones, terrorists and gangsters have already created them, albeit with much less noble intentions.

    The civilised world cannot and must not continue watching this humanitarian disaster to unfold. Libya is also riddled with internal divisions. Its renewal can only be achieved with active assistance of the international community. Europe and the world have supreme interest in a renewed Libya with plural political system.

    Libya, under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, was militarily ‘cracked’ in 2011 by a French-led coalition. It would be more than symbolic if the transformation of the country was led to a successful conclusion by a French-mediated action.

    From this very first day of your mandate, President Macron, the clock is ticking. The failure to undertake clear measures and courageous reforms would mean that the situation in Europe would only keep getting worse and, in the next presidential elections in France, Marine Le Pen could wipe her opponents off their feet..

    Here’s my proposal for a powerful foreign policy measure: to swiftly proceed with setting up the first, pilot safe zone in Libya. The area where the refugees and asylum seekers will be able to not only wait out the conclusion of their asylum proceedings, but also live for as long as necessary before the situation in their country settles down or is resolved.

    The safe zone would naturally be used also to place unsuccessful asylum applicants returned from the European countries in those cases where the readmission agreement with the relevant country is not working.

    Such safe zone will clearly require military protection, and its creation would not only have to be negotiated in political terms, but also secured in military terms; this offers an opportunity for enhanced EU cooperation in the field of security and defence.

    Initiating and developing such enhanced cooperation, based on a concrete operation and concrete action, will show in full light who is serious about such cooperation. I also think that it will show whether there is a brighter future for the European Union.

    President Macron, En marche! It’s time to take action!

    Mikuláš Dzurinda European Union Eurozone Extremism

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    En Marche, President Macron! Seven reasons to move from words to action


    08 May 2017

  • From Immanuel Kant and William Penn to Aristide Briand, the idea of European Unity represents something of an age-old dream in Europe.

    The early post WWII attempts at European unity, however, were the result of the destructive excesses of nationalism, and war. The motivation was to transcend the tradition of national antagonism, and create a network of economic interdependence that would virtually eliminate the possibility of renewed conflict among European states. So that Europe would not regress to a “dark continent” ever again.

    Building a new economic and political structure in Europe, would subordinate national sovereignty to a wider European loyalty and decision-making process. The prospect of European unity also meant enhanced, and quicker economic recovery and eventual prosperity.

    There was also the realization on the part of Western European powers that the scale of world politics had radically changed as a result of WWII. None of the great European powers alone would be able to reinstate their global position in the post war era. Only united they stood a chance of reestablishing their influence in world affairs.

    European unity also became a major US foreign policy objective after the war. For one reason or another, the US found itself deeply involved in two European wars inside a generation. It became an accepted proposition that the US had a right and an interest to become involved in Europe’s postwar reconstruction. Support in Europe and the US for European unity rose dramatically with the beginning of the cold war.

    The Berlin blockade and the communist takeover in Prague, with the backing of the Soviet Union, were a stark evidence of the Soviet threat to European security. In the emerging bipolar structure of the cold war, the strengthening of Western Europe became a vital interest of both western Europeans and Americans.

    A further American motivation for unity was the German problem. European unity was seen as a way of addressing the German problem by anchoring Germany in the West. Germany’s economic potential could also be vital for west European recovery. It is no secret that this was a major American motive in proposing the Marshall plan in 1947 and associating W. Germany with it in 1948.

    For skeptical members of Congress, European unity was seen as a major means of avoiding a situation of permanent European economic dependence upon the US.

    For that reason the Marshall plan intended to rebuild European production capabilities to enable the Europeans to export sufficiently to support their import needs through their export earnings. The US position was that any new dollar aid would have to carry reliable guarantees of getting the Europeans off the US dole within a period of four years. For that reason the Marshall plan was based on a concerted regional basis unlike the earlier UNRRA bilateral aid approaches.

    The US made it clear that continuation of Marshall aid funds would depend upon European cooperation and institutional creativity. In that sense the US encouraged the creation of OEEC as an organization, which would encourage West European unity.  OEEC would get the questions of who gets what, settled by the Europeans themselves. Then the Europeans would present their agreed upon proposals to Washington for consideration.

    OEEC was an intergovernmental organization without any pretension of supranationality or federalizing tendencies. It was an institution for the coordination of nationally determined economic recovery projects. It could not compel states to do anything.

    OEEC did, however, contribute greatly to west European economic recovery, which was a precondition for European integration later represented by the ECSC and the EEC. Furthermore, OEEC through the European Payments Union (EPU) stimulated major European trade increases leading to the growth of European assets in the 50s, which was a precondition to allow European currencies to become convertible.

    This, in turn, was a precondition for the integration that started with the treaty of Rome. OEEC was also successful in the import quota abolition. It also made an important contribution to the restructuring of the locus of European decision-making in the economic realm. It developed and consolidated a process of consultations among European governments with respect to economic plans and policies, which smoothed the way to the next level of economic cooperation in the context of the EEC.

    The conditions of the post war era and the realities of the emerging cold war motivated and rallied a number of European statesmen around the dream of European unity. Exceptional figures such as Schuman, Adenauer, Spaak, Monet, Spinelli, and de Gasperi, seized the moment to promote the vision of a united Europe. They, rightly, came to be called the founding fathers of European unity. 

    To a large extent, however, the early impulses for European unity in the immediate post war era came from the so called “external federators”. The positive and decisive role of the United States, on the one hand, and the emerging challenges and threats posed by the Soviet Union and the cold war, on the other.

    Europe at sixty is facing a similar set of challenges, and the reasons for the continuity of the European project remain as strong as ever. Europe can only united face the challenges of globalization, and cope effectively with its current polycrisis.  Its unity remains vital for the West and US interests, even under the Trump administration. While, on the other hand, Putin’s assertive Russia makes unity imperative for its survival. 

    Constantine Arvanitopoulos EU-US European Union Euroscepticism Leadership

    Constantine Arvanitopoulos

    Early attempts at European unity: the “External Federators”


    19 Apr 2017

  • The talk of a multi-speed EU has started in Europe. While no one knows what exactly is to be its scope, what it will precisely look like, we all know one thing: the EU cannot continue with business as usual. Because there will be no business as usual.

    The EU needs to take serious decisions. It must respond to such challenges as Brexit, the new U.S. administration, the growing interest of Africans in Europe, but also to such threats as the rapidly arming China, the unhinged and nervous Russia, the growing autocracy in Turkey or the nationalism in the Western Balkans and, finally, also to the natural evolution – the globalisation and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.

    In addressing these key issues, the EU needs to stand united and be ready for action. Otherwise it will not be respected and will not have the strength to defend its values and to pursue its interests. The first clear signals suggesting that a multi-speed EU is a real alternative of the future direction of the EU have evoked varying reactions from the various countries.

    Two big foursomes stand on two opposite poles: THE BIG FOUR (Germany, France, Italy and Spain) on the one, THE VISEGRAD FOUR on the other. While at the Versailles meeting the Big Four declared their unity in promoting the idea of a multi-speed Europe, the Visegrad Four countries became puzzled and have responded with verbal vacillations.

    The clearest position was taken by Hungary, which is opposed to a multi-speed EU, while Slovakia wants to be in the first line of the accelerating Europe at any cost. I am convinced that a better and even existential choice for all the Visegrad Four countries is to stay in the group of countries that maintain the closest cooperation. To stay in the group of countries around the Big Four that will seek and enforce relevant solutions.

    However, what I see as a problem is that when it will come to taking tough action, no one will have to ask us whether we want to play the highest European premier league or not. No one will be obliged to ask us whether we are strongly against or passionately for such action. It will be mainly our actions and our conduct that will speak for all of us. And, moreover, our ability and willingness to contribute to finding solutions and bearing the costs of their implementation.

    In this regard, the Visegrad Four countries have certain problems. For instance, Slovakia under the government of Robert Fico appears to be much more a “centrifugal” component of the reunited Europe than a component that unites, cooperates and seeks mutually beneficial solutions. Fico’s reaction to mandatory quotas was at first understandable. They were adopted in a hasty manner, apparently without appropriate advance consultations, in a directive manner.

    But there had been two problems right at the beginning: first, we failed to show at least an elementary understanding of the fact that immigration suddenly emerged as a critical problem for several countries (Greece, Italy and especially Germany) and, second, we have as yet offered no alternative to the solution advocated by Germany, France and the European institutions. Yet, in the second half of 2016, we held the presidency of the EU Council. Towards the end of that mandate we presented a chimera of “effective solidarity”, which was eventually ridiculed or not even noticed.

    Let’s be honest and truthful with one another. The theme of immigration to Europe is probably the biggest challenge for the EU in the coming years or even decades. And it is not mainly about the war in Syria. Africa is a huge continent, and a number of its countries are plagued with hunger, as well as with violence and terrorism.

    But it is a very populous continent with a high birth rate. In spite of economic and social hardships, mobile phones and social networks are reaching an ever growing number of inhabitants of African countries who are thus discovering prosperity lying not too far away from their homes. It is not difficult to solve this equation with the above parameters: the result will be further migration pressures on Europe in the coming years.

    Because of its attitude and inability as well as unwillingness to contribute to solving this quintessential equation, Slovakia is slowly but surely gravitating towards the edge – an area of diminishing interest for those who bear the greatest burden. Fico offers a similar experience with Slovakia’s stance on Russia and its aggressive policy not only towards its neighbours but also towards the West.

    Fico thinks that he is very smart when, regarding the decision to introduce or lift the sanctions against Russia, he says in Bratislava that the sanctions against Russia are stupid and should be lifted, but keeps silent when the actual decisions are taken at the Brussels summit, only to subsequently declare, “I oppose the sanctions, but I did not want to destroy the unity of the majority at the negotiations”.

    It is possible that Fico lives in an illusion that he has satisfied both – his voters and Putin on the one side and those who are really concerned about or threatened by the aggressive regime of Vladimir Putin on the other side. But this is a deep mistake: it is well known in Berlin, in Paris, in Brussels and elsewhere that Fico has been a great help to Putin, breaks the unity of the EU, and distinctly weakens Putin’s respect for the West. By doing so, he increases Putin’s appetite. Fico’s actions strongly contribute to Vladimir Putin’s policy of divide et impera!

    As regards the remaining Visegrad Four countries, they do not seem to be in the “centripetal” mood, either; rather the opposite. Hungary has announced the abandonment of liberal democracy and is looking for enemies also in academic institutions, such as the Central European University. Concerning anti-Russian sanctions, it holds the same position as Fico.

    Since its last parliamentary elections, Poland keeps the European institutions busy with the review of the constitutionality of some of its steps, for instance in connection with appointments to the Constitutional Court. The most consolidated Visegrad Group country appears to be Czechia. 

    The European Union is harmed by the opportunism of some of its leaders. They say different things at home and in Brussels. They take credit for the successes, and put the blame for failures on Brussels. However, being a member of the EU and NATO, an ally to the others in the community of Western countries, means not only the right to jointly enjoy its advantages, but also the duty to jointly share and face the difficulties and costs.

    It means to be responsive to the problems of the others. Even the biggest and the most powerful ones face problems from time to time. If we betray them at such time, we lose the allies. I am overwhelmed by such feelings at this very time.

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe European Union

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    The Visegrad four group gravitates towards the edge


    07 Apr 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

  • What is the alternative to a hard Brexit? 

    I believe conditions can be created in which the UK voters could decide not to leave the EU at all.  Ireland should work to create those conditions. The terms for Brexit set out by Mrs May will do incalculable damage to this island, politically, emotionally and economically.  We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of Mrs May’s chosen hard Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure that there is no Brexit.

    Apart from a few open questions, Theresa May has said what she wants. She wants out of the single market, out of the customs union, and “control” over immigration. The open questions she has avoided so far are about the financial terms of the divorce, the status of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and two aspects of a future trade agreement (if there ever is one), namely arbitrating disputes, and  third country imports getting into the EU via the UK.

    It is unlikely that the Article 50 letter she will send to Donald Tusk next month will tell us much more about the UK negotiating position than the Lancaster House speech did. So it is time now to start thinking about how the EU will respond to Mrs May’s letter.

    On the present schedule, the European Council would meet in April to agree the orientation it would give to the EU negotiators for the discussions with the UK that would start in June. These orientations would be agreed by consensus, so every EU head of government would have to be satisfied.  For Ireland, this April European Council meeting is potentially the most important European meeting a Taoiseach will ever attend.

    In working out the orientation to be given to the negotiators, the crucial thing is for the European Council to work out what would be its ”best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA). It is important to have an alternative ready because there is every possibility that no agreement will be reached within the two year time frame for negotiation, and ratification, of a withdrawal agreement. Mrs May has said that, for her, no deal at all preferable to a bad deal. Her BATNA, so to speak, is no deal at all.

    “No deal” would mean the UK simply crashing out of the EU overnight, sometime before the end of March 2019.  This “no deal” scenario would be an overnight halt to flights, to trade and to commerce. There would be immediate and massive currency instability.

    From the point of view of pure negotiating tactics, maybe it is no surprising that Mrs May would threaten with a “no deal”. But to do so, in the absence of a well-crafted fall-back position, is something the UK cannot really afford. It vindicates Tony Blair’s description of the UK government as “not driving the (Brexit) bus”, but rather “being driven” by partisan and ideological forces it has not tried to control. In the absence of a real alternative to a hard Brexit, it is on auto pilot heading towards a cliff.

    The EU country that would be worst affected by the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal is, of course, Ireland. So Ireland must use all its imagination and ingenuity to see if a creative way out for the UK and the EU can be found.

    Should the EU offer UK voters another option? 

    If the UK government is unable or unwilling, because of domestic politics, to work out a responsible “best available alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA), then the EU side should do so for it.  It should adopt it alongside its line by line response the UK’s negotiating demands. Having a BATNA would also strengthen the EU’s negotiating position. It would provide something with which an emerging deal could be compared. It would also provide a basis on which the UK could reconsider its decision of 23 June 2016, if it wants to do that.

    As Tony Blair said, UK voters have a ”right to change their minds”. After all, politicians are allowed to change their minds, so why not voters? If UK voters, in a referendum, sent their government on a mission towards Brexit, it would be reasonable that the same voters, rather than Parliament, should adjudicate on what will have been achieved (or not) by their delegates.

    If UK voters ever do change their minds about Brexit, it will happen slowly and incrementally. Parts of the Brexit scenario, obscured during the Referendum, will become clearer during the negotiation. The unavoidable interconnections between EU freedoms and EU rules will emerge. For this to happen, it will be in the EU side’s interest to ensure that there is maximum public understanding of the unfolding negotiation. Transparency will work in the EU’s interest.  A running commentary is exactly what is needed in the interest of public education!  

    If the alternative to EU rules is no rules at all, citizens in both the EU countries and the UK may come see EU membership in a different light. They may, for the first time in many cases, see the EU as something that simplifies their lives, rather than the reverse. In my view, the best BATNA that the EU side should adopt is an offer of continuing UK membership of the EU  broadly on the basis that the UK  was a member in 2015, before David Cameron’s ill fated “renegotiation”. 

    The 2015 terms were generous to the UK. They allowed it to opt out of the euro, of Schengen, of Justice and Policing cooperation, of the Stability and Growth Pact, and of the justiciability in the UK of the European Convention. Furthermore, the UK itself had also decided, without Brexit, that it would have a referendum of any new EU powers. In that sense the UK was already having its cake, while eating it, before it ever decided on Brexit. These 2015 terms should be left on the table by the EU side, but without the unjustifiable UK budget rebate.

    Of course, at this stage, the UK would reject such an offer out of hand.  But, as the inevitable consequences of Brexit become clearer, UK public opinion might begin to see merit in it, particularly when it is compared with the costs of simply crashing out of the EU, overnight, with no deal at all, which is Mrs May’s fall back negotiating scenario.

    The resistance to keeping such an offer on the table is more likely to come from some existing EU member states. Some members will point to the UK’s insatiable demands, when it was a member, for opt outs, rebates, and exceptions.  Arlene Foster’s analogy about feeding crocodiles may come to their minds. They will recall General de Gaulle’s original veto of UK membership, and his foresight that the UK would never settle in as a member. They might also argue that offering the UK a way back, after it has triggered Article 50, might encourage others to try it on too. 

    But if they sit back and think about it, they will, I believe, conclude that a UK that inside the EU is better for the EU than a UK that is outside. This will be so even if a trade deal is eventually concluded with the UK. Keeping the offer of resumed UK membership on the table would be good politics and good economics for the EU.

    The terms of the Lisbon Treaty do create some difficulty for this approach. Article 50 (3) says a country that has sought to leave the EU under that article will be automatically excluded from the EU two years after it has triggered Article 50 unless the EU side “unanimously decides to extend the period”. Article 50 (5) says that, if a state, that has withdrawn for the EU, asks to rejoin, it has to do under article 49, where the application would have to be ratified by all existing members.

    Others may argue that the UK cannot withdraw its Article 50 letter once it has sent it. This is a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide, but article 6.8 of the Vienna Convention on treaties explicitly allows revocation of a notice of intention to withdraw from a treaty.

    These problems are real, but not insurmountable. A political declaration by the EU heads of Government in April in favour of facilitating an eventual UK resumption of EU membership, on its 2015 terms minus the budget rebate, would create a realistic basis for comparison in the debate about Brexit that, in a sense, is only now starting in the UK.  

    John Bruton Brexit Economy Elections EU Member States European Union

    John Bruton

    Brexit out of the box


    28 Feb 2017

  • I say Europe, you say…?


    In our last interview, MEP David Mc Allister’s question to you was: “Where do you see the European Union in 20 years?” 

    With citizens who have a strong European identity and who are defending our values both inside and outside of the Union.

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

    In the early 90s, the British Royal Family was not very popular and in Britain there was a rumor that the EU had a plan to abolish their Kingdom. My answer was that the British can only do it themselves. In the end, I am happy that the Royal Family is still accepted.

    What advice did you give your sons when they started doing politics?

    I didn’t give them any advice, they didn’t ask for it, they just did it.

    Recently you presented your book United for the Better: My European Way in Brussels. What do you miss most about living there?

    I had a very good time in the European Parliament and I am very thankful for that but I don’t miss Brussels.

    What is your favourite Konrad Adenauer quote?

    ‘The situation is serious but not hopeless’.

    Being at the forefront of advocating for the big-bang enlargement, what do you think are the prospects for a new enlargement?

    We need to do it very carefully because we need the backing of the people of the European Union.

    Who is your favourite movie character of all time and why?

    Miss Marple, because I like crime stories where you can also enjoy and laugh.

    What is your favourite moment from European history, depicted in the House of European History?

    The description of the change from communism to liberty in 1989-90.

    How do you think the present moment we are living in will be depicted in the House?

    As a moment of challenge which we have successfully overcome.

    What was the most awkward moment you experienced as President of the European Parliament?

    It was the signing of the Charter of Human Rights, in the EP in Strasbourg on 12 December 2007. The anti-European members created a chaos in the Parliament and the King of Jordan, Abdullah II waited to make his speech.

    What about most amusing moment?

    It could be when Dalai Lama addressed me as a ‘comrade’. I said to him: ‘Your holiness, I prefer you call me a friend’ to which he replied ‘my friend’.

    German or Belgian beer?


    Working in Academia or in Politics?

    Politics with intelligence and emotion.

    Historical or crime novels?

    Crime novels with historical background.

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

    I would like to ask Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso the following question: how do you see the relations between the regions in Spain and the Spanish state in the framework of the EU? 

    Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Hans-Gert Pöttering

    I Say Europe

    15 Feb 2017

  • Declining election turnouts and popular disillusionment with politics show that our political systems are being put to a test. Citizens are turning away from traditional political involvement (voting, party membership, contacting a local politician) and turning towards other forms of political participation (signing online petitions, taking up ad-hoc causes, organising demonstrations).

    With our political systems becoming more and more complex, no wonder democratic institutions are being perceived as remote by voters. In the era of internet and social media, discontent is easier voiced than solutions. The rise of populist parties can in part be interpreted as people’s attempt to revolt against processes, institutions and elected officials they no longer feel represented by.

    As a political think tank, we are continuously trying to understand these trends and to find opportunities to improve political participation. Together with our partners, EDS (European Democrat Students) and YEPP (Youth of the European People’s Party), we are launching a new ideas contest where we want to hear your concrete proposals addressing one of the 3 following fields:

    • Political parties: How would you make political parties work better (more accessible membership, more democratic, more efficient use of resources)?
    • Political institutions and processes: How would you improve democratic processes such as electoral systems, election campaigns, referendums, etc.? What should be the role of the internet in general and social media in particular for political institutions and processes?
    • Politicians: How can politicians really connect with citizens? How can they improve their image, record, etc., for example by using technological advances? 

    If you would like to participate, please choose and submit your proposal in one of the fields above. The word limit for each proposal is 500 words. If you would like to submit more than one proposal (for example, one proposal for the field “political parties” and another one for the field “political institutions and processes”, or two different proposals for the same field), you can do so by submitting each proposal in a separate document. Your proposal should have the following structure: 

    • The problem: identify and briefly describe the problem that your proposal is trying to address
    • The proposal: elaborate on your proposal, explaining the practical steps needed to implement it
    • The outcome: wrap-up by explaining the positive effects of your proposal in addressing the initial problem

    All proposals should be concrete, feasible and address national or EU politics

    What’s in it for you? All proposals will be carefully read and evaluated by our experts working on this topic. The 3 participants who submitted the 3 best proposals will win an all expenses-paid trip to Brussels to discuss with us their proposal. The best proposals will also be published on our blog and promoted on our social media channels. 

    Please send your proposals by email at yourideas@martenscentre.eu by March 1st, 2017. Please mention “Ideas contest” in the subject line of your email. 

    Good luck, we are looking forward to receiving your ideas!

    Democracy EU Member States European Union Political Parties

    If it’s broken, let’s fix it!

    Other News

    25 Jan 2017

  • I say Europe, you say…? 
    What was your first job? 
    Serving in the German Army (Bundeswehr) for two years. 
    Which was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career? 
    Being a coffee drinker myself, I was amused to read in a British newspaper that Brussels was trying to restrict the drinking habits of the United Kingdom’s coffee lovers. Of course, this was not the case.

    The article referred to a study undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority, which assessed the different levels of caffeine intake. It concluded that a regular caffeine consumption up to 400mg per day is not worrisome for non-pregnant adults. The European Union never proposed to regulate how much coffee people drink. 
    How do you see transatlantic relations after 20 January 2017? As Chair of the US Delegation, is there still a perspective for TTIP, and, if not, what is the alternative? 
    The outcome of the US presidential elections was not what we expected but as with all democratic decisions, we have to respect it and work with it. Good transatlantic relations are crucial for us and we will continue to work on strengthening our partnership. At the moment, we are facing many uncertainties.

    The new Trump administration is still being formed and we will have to wait for a clear political agenda. Even before the US election, the TTIP negotiations had already been tough. Considering the President-elect’s take on trade, a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and the US seems rather remote.

     Soft or Hard Brexit? 

    Prime Minister May’s strategy resembles a “hard Brexit” of rigid border and customs controls to reduce migration and a British withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The European Union’s position is clear: the British objective of restricting the freedom of labour while maintaining full access to the Single Market tries to “square the circle”. Full access to the European market without applying the fundamental freedoms is not possible. 
    We noticed you have your website in 6 different languages – how much is the EU level communication important for you? 
    The variety of languages, cultures and traditions is what makes the European Union unique. By now, my website is available in eight different languages to reach as many EU citizens as possible. We should never get tired of explaining the EU to the people. This is why I regularly inform about my work on Facebook, Twitter and my website. By subscribing to my newsletter, you can also receive monthly updates directly in your e-mail inbox.   
    As a former president of CDU’s Junge Union how do you feel about lack of youth participation and overall interest in politics and what needs to be done to change the negative trend? 
    When I was district chairman of the Junge Union, I enjoyed the positive energy of our group. Politics affects us all in our everyday lives and it is the youth of today that will change tomorrow. I encourage young people to get involved. Programmes like Erasmus or the newly launched Interrail campaign by Manfred Weber are good initiatives to engage young Europeans.

    But there is certainly more that needs to be done. Education is key: How much do children and young adults learn about the EU at school? Often not enough. Therefore, I believe that the history of the European Union and the values it is founded on should be given more space on the curriculum. 
    Choose one of the following: moules frites or waffles? 

    Moules frites. 
    Law or Politics? 

    Politics based on the rule of law. 
    German or British humor? 

    British humor in Germany. 
    Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him? 
    For your next interview, I would like to suggest the former President of the European Parliament, Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering. He initiated the idea of a “House of European History”, which is expected to open in 2017. The question I would like to ask him would be: “Where do you see the European Union in 20 years?” 

    “I say Europe, you say…?” is a series of candid interviews with centre right movers and shakers of the European project. From legislative work to food preferences, from weekday causes to weekend hobbies, we show you the human face of EU politics and its main protagonists. 
    Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with MEP David McAllister

    I Say Europe

    17 Jan 2017

  • The past year has witnessed a major shift in the relationships between the four Central European countries that make up the Visegrád Group. In matters related to migration, the members of the alliance have worked together in Brussels as a cohesive bloc throughout 2016.

    But in the wake of Brexit, simmering internal divisions have arisen within this regional alliance over the EU’s future. The Visegrád Group acts as an amplifier, an ad hoc coalition, reinforcing regional positions where they exist. Its diplomatic infrastructure and other structural factors are here to stay, but the key drivers of its stances are now domestic politics and the role of the countries’ leaders.

    In the absence of a shared vision for the future of Europe and the role of EU institutions, the honeymoon period seems to be over. A ‘conservative revolution’ in Poland has created an illiberal axis with Hungary, where a sovereigntist narrative holds sway, while the Czech and Slovak governments have maintained a more pragmatic line on the EU. The new risk is that reinventing the EU will come at the expense of (divided) Central Europeans.

    Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Milan Nic EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy Leadership

    Milan Nic

    The Visegrád Group in the EU: 2016 as a turning-point?


    20 Dec 2016

  • The EU is facing its biggest threat yet—a crisis of European identity. As member states fall into the hands of Eurosceptic and nationalist regimes, for many the future of the Union seems hopeless.

    People are disillusioned, failing to see the added value in the community of nations they once voted to join. Institutions are struggling, unable to regain their citizens’ trust, or even to reach them at all. This new crisis requires a new way of thinking—instead of supporting the institutional machine, the EU must support the people.

    It needs to place trust in the awakening civil society, endorsing and funding grass-roots movements such as the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, which in a matter of days managed to ignite the biggest mass protests in Poland since the fall of Communism.

    Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Martin Mycielski EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    Martin Mycielski

    The crisis of European identity and awakening of civil society


    11 Nov 2016

  • A tentative response to a groundbreaking US election.

    Of course, the election of Donald Trump to 45th President of the United States is an unmitigated disaster for the US, for the West and therefore for the entire world. Of course, with all her faults, Hillary Clinton would have been by far the better President. But what’s done, is done, and the questions to be answered now are: How did we get here? How bad will it get? And what should Europeans do?


    The wave of populist anger sweeping through the West has been amply described in past weeks. It would have had its effects even on a Clinton administration. It’s driven by identity politics as well as fears of globalisation, and of course by economic grievances. It certainly is facilitated by the acceleration, anonymity and the echo chamber effect of social media.

    And quite obviously, in the case of the US, Republicans share the blame, with their congressional divisiveness that has become an ideology, and their demonisation of Obama and Clinton. The Clinton campaign will be torn to pieces, in hindsight.

    The question is whether all this should be cast as a titanic battle between the forces of open vs. closed. I’m afraid the US election (just like the Brexit referendum in June) has shown that doing so risks putting the majority of people on the side of closed because the more unified ‘moderate forces’ act, the more they will be seen as one elitist conspiracy.

    Hence, here is a first conclusion: Europe’s big tent, catch-all people’s parties will have to take care not to appear united against worried voters, but give different answers according to their ideological differences that have not magically disappeared because of a new paradigm discovered by the editorial offices of the Guardian and the Economist.

    What happens now?

    As far as we’ve heard over the past months, Trump’s ideas for office range from the ludicrous to the scary, from building the wall and making Mexico pay for it, to banning Muslims from entering the country, renegotiating all existing trade deals, jailing Hillary, ‘bombing the shit out of IS’ and striking a deal with Putin. But let’s remember that he is not alone.

    There are checks and balances at work in the US that he cannot easily swipe aside. So the ludicrous ideas will take care of themselves, and for the scary ones, the hope of the world rests in Congress, even with a Republican majority: Especially on any bargain with Putin, House and Senate Republicans are very unlikely to follow.

    Having said all that, of course President Trump can cause enormous damage especially in foreign relations where he needs less Congressional approval than for domestic affairs. But to now claim with certainty that we’re looking at the end of the West may be self-defeating. We simply know too little about what the Trump administration will really do.

    Europe’s response

    It would be easy to say that Trump’s presidency is just what it takes to get Europeans to get their act together and make a dash for the ‘United States of Europe’  – if it wasn’t for all those other jolts in recent years that have failed to unify us, against expectations, such as the financial crisis, the migration crisis and the Brexit referendum. Of course, the US election may well be a bigger shakeup than all those combined. Nevertheless, a ‘federalist surge’ in the EU is doomed to fail because it would unleash the same reaction we have seen in Britain and the US this year.

    What we do need now is a level-headed approach, based on our core values, i.e. liberal democracy which, as it happened, has taken a blow last night. But the centuries-old project of the enlightenment is alive unless we give it up. Naturally, authoritarian leaders across the world will rejoice now, pointing to the US election. But it is up to all democrats to show that democracy, while not perfect, is able to correct its mistakes.

    The European Union will have to shoulder more of the burden of defending itself against threats from the East and the South – that would have been the case even with a Clinton administration. Stronger European defence structures within NATO, and better cooperation of law enforcement, are now more necessary than ever. Striving for a soft Brexit, and strong structures of cooperation with Great Britain, becomes even more important now, although the challenges are formidable.

    Economically, we need to buckle up for a new downturn but that should only reinforce our resolve to make EU economies more competitive, and the Single Market more performing. And the Euro crisis has taught us that the key to this is with the member state governments, not the EU’s institutions. Last but not least, yes, we will have to cooperate with a President Trump, as ludicrous as it sounds.

    All this is sketchy and will have to be adapted as the policies of the Trump administration take shape over the next couple of weeks. We are looking at a less predictable US and therefore at a riskier world than ever before. But above all, as we have learned from the other nine-eleven 15 years ago, it’s important not to overreact. 

    Roland Freudenstein EU-US European Union Transatlantic Values

    Roland Freudenstein

    Our Transatlantic 9-11


    09 Nov 2016

  • ‘It would have been easy if it had been a clean break’, stated Gunnar Hökmark MEP (Moderaterna, EPP), opening the discussion. ‘The problem is that we are going to live in the same house’, he added, referring to the global issues of climate change, the need for financial and economic stability and foreign policy with China and Russia, which require European collaboration.

    It would have been easy if it had been a clean break

    ‘How to secure a friendly Brexit?’ was a question asked in an event organised by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and Open Europe on 13 October 2016. Centre-right Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark and industry representatives from both the UK and continental Europe were invited to discuss what is at stake in the negotiations and the UK’s relationship to the Union after the termination of the membership. In order to achieve common goals, establishing good EU-UK relations after Brexit is important, Mr. Hökmark stated.

    According to German entrepreneur Kai Büntemeyer, director of a manufacturing company Kolbus with important interests in the UK, the results of the UK referendum can already be seen in the UK’s and EU’s economies. Many investment projects are on hold. In order to prevent further damage, ‘We must help the UK to get the best possible one foot in, one foot out – deal. Anything else would be a complete disaster’, he argued. Britain should not be punished by hard Brexit terms.

    The British panellists Parisa Smith (Director of EU Affairs, BBA) and Stephen Booth (Director, Open Europe) agreed that there is a lot at stake when it comes to geopolitics and economic consequences. However, according to Mr. Booth, it is important to remember that ‘the public in the UK has decided to reject political integration, not engagement in wider challenges facing Europe’. The result of the vote should ultimately be respected. The next step is for both parties to establish what kind of relationship they wish to maintain before focusing on the details of the Brexit terms. After that, Ms. Smith noted, the negotiators must stay pragmatic and work together to find a beneficial deal for both sides.

    In the Q & A part of the event, the potential model for the post-Brexit EU-UK relationship was discussed. The already existing examples of Iceland and Switzerland were not seen favourably among the panellists, as the UK specificities seem to require an innovative model.

    An important conclusion was that Brexit should be understood as the sign of an anti-globalisation trend currently taking hold of Europe and the West. For Mr. Hökmark, the key issue from now on is to fight populism. The success of Britain’s leave campaign demonstrates that appealing to the emotions of the public is a powerful tool. In an effort to come to a friendly Brexit, we should not underestimate the role of emotions and the need for decisive leadership.

    Economy EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    How to secure a friendly Brexit?

    Other News

    18 Oct 2016

  • The key problem of Europe is ontological. We are not sure what the European Union actually is. Is it a free trade area, a giant NGO based in Brussels and doing good for Europe and the World, or perhaps a country in the making? The compromise answer, popular in Brussels, is that Europe is a project. The project is something that is not static, which is being developed, and has not yet reached its final form.

    Brussels vs. Bratislava

    As long as Europe is a project, it is possible to talk about the future of Europe. As long as Europe is a project, it can be illustrated as a bicycle – standing upright until it moves forward. The Euro crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit have slowed down this bicycle or even reversed its direction. One cannot drive a bicycle backwards. This is in fact the problem to be addressed by the leaders of the EU Member States this week in Bratislava: how to get the bicycle going again.

    They will, as many times before, debate the future of Europe, more precisely the future of the European Union. The point of this writing is that if the European Union has an ambition to be more than a free trade area or a non-governmental organization, if it will be getting attributes of statehood, it needs a solid foundation for that.

    Many agree that the EU should move in the direction of an ever closer union. And everyone agrees that a solid foundation is needed. The disagreement is in what is the essence of this foundation. One disagreement is between the right and the left. The right sees the EU founded on the common market. The left sees it founded on social justice and solidarity.

    This article is about another kind of disagreement. I will argue that the future of the European Union cannot be based on an ideology, neither left nor right; that ideology cannot be a foundation of a union with an ambition to get some attributes of a country.

    Ideas vs. Feelings

    I understand ideology as a rational system of ideas – the product of an enlightened human mind. Examples of such systems of ideas are socialism, free maket, environmentalism, multiculturalism, framework of human rights and the rule of law etc. Ideologies are the results of reflection. Many are good, some are also bad.

    That ideology cannot be the foundation of a country is the main message of Samuel P. Huntington’s (of Clash of Civilizations fame) book Who we are. He argues that countries based on ideology failed. For example Czechoslovakia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This author’s former home state of Yugoslavia was held together by the socialist ideology and the ideology of brotherhood and unity of nations. Similarly, Czechoslovakia and the USSR.

    Alternative to ideology are feelings, instincts and culture – everything that is pre-rational, subconscious, which is not the result of complex intellectual exercise, but people simply have it in their blood and genes. Those moral foundations provide, according to Jonathan Haidt, the basis for group cohesion and are the basis of nation states. These foundations include kin, religion, language, history, nation.

    Therefore, Slovenians, Croats, Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrans, Macedonians and Bosnians wanted to live in different countries. Stronger than the cohesive effects of the socialist ideology, Yugoslav common market, free movement of people within Yugoslavia and common currency, stronger were the disintegrating feelings based in language, history and religion. In Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union too, instincts trumped ideology, common market and common currency.

    Elites vs. the Rest

    This superiority of stone age instincts over intellectual achievements is hard to swallow by intellectuals and other reasoning people. It seems impossible that in the 21st century pristine senses of tribe and nation prevail over the achievements of the human mind, such as free market, common currency or social justice. But only to intellectuals. Most people do not bother trying to understand the reasoning how “good” is to have the widest possible community to achieve social justice (or free market). Ideologues of both central left and central right have a common problem.

    The majority of people take a shortcut and listen to their instincts. These instincts tell them that Germans will not pay for social justice in Greece, while they may be willing to tolerate taxes to achieve social justice in their German homeland. These instincts tell them to charge customs on imported goods if this helps save German jobs. It does not help much if intellectuals explain that open markets (or social justice) are good for all. Somewhere deep down, people feel something. And there is a limit to how far and how deep political elites can run counties against such feelings.

    This divide between the reason of the elites and the instincts of ordinary people explain Brexit, Sanders, Trump and the whole host populist movements in the EU member states. In good times, most people tolerate or largely ignore ideology. The elites may be convinced by the rationality of the arguments even in bad times. But not the rest.

    It is intellectually appealing to base the future European Union on the common market, human rights, social justice and solidarity but, in my reading of Huntington, it will not work.

    Geography vs. Civilization

    If the European Union should become a closer union – and I think in some areas it must become stronger – then this will not be possible only on ideological, rational, enlightened foundations, no matter how much are the intellectuals are fond of them. More Europe is necessary for the protection of external borders, maintaining security, ensuring free market and the rule of law. But the foundation should be the European identity: who we are, how we are, and how we are different from that which is not Europe. Elements of this identity are religion, civilization and culture.

    A closer Union can be accepted by the European citizens if this Union is seen as a guardian of European culture and civilization. Or, if is sounds more politically correct, European “values”. It can be only as much closer as much intuitive awareness of European civilization exists within Europeans. Multicultural Europe seems a good idea to those who are not part of European culture and to the enlightened minority that hopes noble ideas can trump basic human instincts.

    In reality, however, Europe founded on ideology is bound to fail.

    Žiga Turk European Union Euroscepticism Values

    Žiga Turk

    A European future of Europe?


    16 Sep 2016

  • 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

  • Ireland (that is the Republic of Ireland) is a small open economy that attracts investment and trades with countries from around the world. It is a pro-European, Anglo-Saxon economy with strong US influences. Ask most Irish people if they are more comfortable in Boston or Berlin, in Perth or Paris and the overwhelming response will be a recognition of Ireland’s positon within the wider “Anglo-sphere”. 

    Irish people tend not to understand how economies can even function with personal tax rates exceeding 50% of relatively low incomes. Irish people also don’t understand how some other EU member states seem to fear non-EU investment or are slow to realise the benefits of attracting workers from all over the world. As a small country dominated by your larger neighbour you learn to look outward at the possibilities on offer, rather than always seeking to protect old historical legacies.

    For Ireland, Britain leaving the EU is a disaster. Politically, economically, culturally and socially. Since 1973, both Britain and Ireland have used EU membership to grow a peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland, to remove borders and increase trade. Ireland could never enter Schengen without Britain, our Common Travel Area with the UK predates membership of the EU and indeed the declaration of a republic in 1948. 

    Ireland’s current close relationship with Britain seems far removed from a relationship that for centuries was dictated by violence and bigotry. It is in this context that the position of the main unionist party in Northern Ireland supporting Brexit should be viewed with concern and despair. As should nationalist calls for a referendum on Irish reunification.

    The Anglo-Irish relationship in 2016 is about much more than trade or jobs or passport checks.  It is about reconciling a bloody (and often despicable) past within the framework of European integration.  With Britain out of the EU, Ireland’s view towards Europe will change. Ireland’s view must change.

    “For Ireland, Britain leaving the EU is a disaster. Politically, economically, culturally and socially.”

    In the short to medium term, the Irish government must press both EU members and the British government for special arrangements that reflect the interlinked nature of the Irish and British economies, both economically and politically. For Ireland, the advantages (or in previous times, the disadvantages) of proximity to Britain reflect not just economic priorities, but the cultural and social closeness of their development within the British Isles.

    For Ireland, the approach to further European integration must be balanced by a consideration of the relationship with Britain. In a sense, the Irish view of Brussels must become more nuanced and more challenging of how any further proposals will impact upon shared Anglo-Irish priorities. 

    Ireland must seek to become a bridge between the EU and a non-EU Britain.  A bridge which could (and should) be utilised by the European Union in the coming negotiations in order to seek the most amicable and beneficial new settlement for all parties. Anything else will draw into doubt the very real achievements of the last four decades of EU membership

    The Irish have a complicated relationship with the English. Unlike the relationship with the Scots or the Welsh, with the English the commonalities are harder to find, although cultural and social familiarities remains the same.  History can be a slow beast to retreat into the shadows. Now is not the time to give up this fight.

    Eoin Drea Brexit EU Member States European Union

    Eoin Drea

    Why Brexit changes everything for Ireland


    28 Jun 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

  • As the shock waves continue to pass through Europe following the UK referendum, it is easy to draw a long list of mistakes that UK leading politicians have made. It is equally simple for continental Europeans to place the blame solely on the British and shake their heads at the referendum results.

    Already before the referendum, there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit. The more isolated the UK would be, the better it would be for European unity, or so the logic goes. However great the temptation towards an angry response, to punch back even, is, it will not help Europe or the EU – nor is it justified.

    First of all, the dynamics that led to the disappointing result of UK referendum exist in other EU member states. In fact, there is no guarantee as to how other member states would vote if they held similar referenda. The UK referendum result is mainly a responsibility for UK politicians, but obviously EU leaders and all of us working in promotion of the positive European development have a fair share of responsibility of not being able to show the EU for what it is – a necessity for our continent.

    Secondly, even with a strong desire from both the UK and EU sides to have as smooth negotiations as possible, the negotiations will not be easy. The two year timetable set for the completion of an exit is extremely short by any standards. Both in the EU and the UK only general emergency plans were made in case of Brexit, but detailed plans are yet to emerge.

    In other words, the challenge today is that we don’t even know all the challenges. 27 member states promoting their individual set of interests and the UK trying to guarantee the best possible deal while undoing 42 years of institutional cooperation will be a painful experience for everybody, even without additional hostility from the EU side.

    As a third point of consideration, despite the UK referendum result, the UK is an essential part of the western world and will stay that way. We should not forget that 48.1 % of the UK voters voted in favour of staying in the EU, despite the brutal campaign of misinformation and, at times, plain lies. Reading the text of UK citizens in social media and the articles and op-eds of journalists one understands that very large proportion of UK citizens are not only disappointed or sad, but heartbroken by the direction their country has taken.

    “Already before the referendum there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit.”

    Young people in the UK reacted to the referendum results with deep disappointment. Among citizens 50 years old and under, the Remain option had clear overwhelming support and among 18-24 years old 75%  of voters were in support of staying in the EU. The generational divide is evident. Should the UK referendum have taken place ten years later, the Remain side could have had a clear victory.

    A very large part of UK sees the importance of European unity, globalisation and openness. That part of the population is an important part of the future make-up of Europe, even if for a couple of years the relation between the UK and the EU will be reflected by this referendum result.

    The UK voters have decided the course of their country and we will respect the results. In consequence, we will conduct the exit negotiations with the UK aiming for the most advantageous result for the EU and its 27 member states. In this negotiation, the UK will be considered as an external 3rd country.

    However, when those negotiations are over, our goal needs to be to enhance and strengthen the relations with the UK as much as we can, because the values UK holds dear are still the same as those of the 27 member states. We should not discard decades of friendship and trust just because of one unfortunate referendum. 

    Tomi Huhtanen Brexit EU Member States European Union Leadership Trade

    Tomi Huhtanen

    Brexit: Revenge on the British will not help Europe


    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

  • There’s an ambiguity at the core of the European project which calls to be solved or at least addressed, but from which the project gets much of its vitality. Is the European project supposed to apply only to Europeans or does it entertain universal ambitions? These days policymakers in Brussels will praise European values while renouncing every practical intent to extend them beyond the boundaries of the European Union as it stands. But then one is forced to ask: why praise them so much, why even call them universal values if they have such a limited scope?

    In principle one could envision a different Europe, one much more interested in shaping the forces of globalization. The European Union could be much more active in spreading a certain European way of doing politics beyond its borders and the most obvious geographical sphere for such ambitions would be those regions standing between Europe and Asia, sometimes indistinguishable from Europe itself. Slowly expanding its influence eastwards and having within its sights a more deeply integrated Eurasia is an immediate task.

    Everything changes if you start thinking along these lines. The European Union suddenly becomes a political agent rather than a territory. European because it is a political will based and organized in Europe, but global in the scope of its action and ambitions. To the extent that forming a strong political will, being a political agent, is more inspiring that being part of a territory, being an object of power, this would be a better and more perfect Union.

    When Russia and China developed their new, mammoth integration projects – the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative – they had one underlying goal: to show Europeans that their decades-old integration project was one among others, benefiting from no special aspirations to universality. But if this underlying goal succeeded beyond the most optimistic expectations, that was because the European Union was already, and very much on its own, retreating within its borders. I cannot pinpoint precisely when this retreat happened. Today it is indisputable,

    Both Russia and China are therefore ready for the next stage in their plans. The goal now is not to remove the universal pretensions from under the European edifice but to build such pretensions for their own projects. Take the case of Russia: if you talk to policymakers in Moscow they will tell you that Russia, not Europe, knows how international politics works. Europeans live in an imaginary world just of their own, Russians live in the real world. Europeans are parochial, Russians abide by the more or less universal rules of power politics.

    In Beijing – where I recently had a number of very fruitful discussions – the claims to universality are no less striking. I was told by policymakers that China wants to give back to the world what it received over the last three decades and heard from academics that China is actively developing values that can appeal to every human being: some version of development and well-being can be readily understood and assimilated by every nation on the planet in a way that democracy and human rights cannot.

    In the future historians will no doubt marvel at the speed with which the European Union transformed itself from a universal project into a geographically limited (perhaps increasingly limited as every European periphery starts to look more and more at odds with the ideological core) territorial unit, uninterested in influencing what happens outside and soon enough struggling to avoid being influenced and shaped by other – more healthily constituted – political agents. The current European malaise – in almost all its forms – has its root in this phenomenon.

    “Let me make a prediction: within twenty years Europe will to a considerable extent be a part of Eurasia.”

    Let me make a prediction: within twenty years Europe will to a considerable extent be a part of Eurasia. What I cannot predict – because it is still open to political decision and action – is what this Eurasian supercontinent will look like. Will it be, at least in some fundamental respects, a larger version of the European Union or will the European Union be dramatically changed by the need to adapt to the rise of new political abstractions, new universal values, which both Russia and China are actively developing and propagating? And yes, in this latter case, we shall still be dealing with universal, abstract values. Much of the European complacency has to do with the conviction that Russia and China cannot speak in a universal voice, but as I argued above this is historically and politically wrong.

    Evidently if as a European you are convinced that other superpowers have only one of two alternatives – remain mired in parochial and nationalist myths or embrace abstract European ideas – then there is no need to rethink the European Union as a political agent. We can just sit back and watch the superiority of the abstract and universal play itself out on the world stage. But let me repeat: Russia and China have their own political abstractions. The clash – if it happens – will happen at the level of powerful political abstractions.

    A clash is not inevitable, of course, but think about it: what better chances do we have to avoid conflict in the great Eurasian landmass than to spread European political concepts of cooperation and human rights outside our own European boundaries? The moment is a critical one. The tectonic plates have started moving – we need all our resources to balance this movement and make these pieces fit together as smoothly as possible. 

    There is one final reason why Europe should become more actively interested in the project of Eurasian integration: to combat the forces of disintegration within Europe itself. The European Union is in desperate need to strengthen its political capacity, its ability to act collectively. So far this has been defended through a vague appeal to history and feeling, but ultimately political capacity can only be strengthened if there is a goal for the sake of which it will be exercised. The European Union needs to become a stronger political agent not in order to fulfill a moral or historical commandment, but in order to perform the tasks which the future will call for: extend its influence outside its boundaries, manage the flows across the borderlands and work for a peaceful future in greater Eurasia.

    Bruno Maçães European Union Globalisation Values

    Bruno Maçães

    Europe and Eurasia: the EU beyond its boundaries


    15 Jun 2016

  • A recent Guardian ICM opinion poll showed a fascinating difference between the views of participants in phone and online surveys regarding the upcoming EU referendum. Both were relatively divisive, only on different sides of the debate: those polled over the phone were eight percentage points more likely to vote to remain the in EU (47 to 39) whilst voters that contributed to the online poll were four points more likely to leave (47:43).

    A range of reasons for this split could exist, but it is a scenario that those of us close to online political campaigning have long foreseen.

    For anybody visiting social media platforms to analyse or involve themselves in the debate on Scottish independence, for example, the online reality provided a vastly different message to the one given by traditional polling: strongly in favour of leaving (or dissolving, depending on your point of view) the United Kingdom – a study I ran in August 2014 attributed approximately 90% of all public social media mentions of the referendum to supporters of independence.

    Analysis of the online debate on the EU referendum reveals a similar, yet more dramatic pattern to that underscored by the Guardian ICM poll.

    The visual in Figure 1 shows the structure of the referendum debate on UK Twitter during the second week of May. The network graph shows the inter-connectivity of the 1000 most influential tweeters in the United Kingdom that discussed the referendum in a variety of ways in the week commencing May 9 (hashtags, responding to campaign accounts, longer form mentions of the referendum or simply expressing views to leave or remain).

    Each node (dot) is a Twitter account and each edge (line) is a connection between them. Connections are conversational, rather than a simple look at who follows or @mentions whom, so show retweets, responses and quoted statuses. A full description of the network map is available here.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    The bulb-shaped cluster to the right of the map is almost exclusively made up of Twitter users strongly in favour of leaving the EU, whilst the strands to the left are largely accounts supportive of Remain. We can also quickly see that the Leave side of the network is both multi-faceted and tightly clustered: the multiple colours show that several sub-networks exist within this conversation, whilst the high density graph shows that the accounts are highly likely to engage directly with one another.

    The largest, most central node on the leave side (red, with thick links to other accounts) is Vote Leave (@vote_leave), perhaps to be expected, whilst the large node to the left of Vote Leave is campaigner Dr Rachel Joyce (@racheljoyce). The latter has only 3,638 followers (at the time of writing) but is crucial to the integrity of this specific conversational network, bringing otherwise disparate accounts together in the debate.

    The strands to the left are held together by two large nodes: Stronger In (@StrongerIn, top) and “British and European” (@polnyypesets, bottom). As on the Leave side, @polnyypesets is not an obvious agent of this debate with just 2,857 followers, but is central to networked discussion.

    Interestingly, the structure of this Twitter debate has changed little since we ran the same analysis a few weeks previously. Figure 2 shows the network graph of the referendum debate at the end of March.

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    The shape is the same: largely pro-Brexit accounts dominating the online noise, whilst Remain supporters inhabit the fringes. Twitter accounts on both sides however, are linked in places, occasionally by media or polling accounts but more often by tweeters engaging in active debate.

    A key reason for the centrality of @polnyypesets in the network is that the account converses with both sides, providing a bridge between Remain and Leave (albeit having closer links to Remain, hence its location in the network).

    When we compare the EU referendum map to the factional, scattered network map of the European political parties (EPP, PES, ALDE etc) during the 2014 Spitzenkandidat race within the European Parliament election (figure 3) we see far higher levels of bipartisan discussion.

    In figure 3, each cluster is dominated by official campaign messaging by the European parties, with few connections between rival camps.

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    The crucial difference between figures 1 and 2 involves the maps’ density. Edges linking Twitter accounts are thinner, meaning fewer interactions between these people, whilst clustering of the map in general is less dense, meaning that fewer of these accounts were conversing with others in March. Bluntly, the online conversation has stepped up, accounts in the EU referendum debate have become more active and conversations between influencers more common.

    Figure 4

    Figure 4 below shows the volume of public social media mentions per week in the UK about the referendum, and the number of unique authors in the discussion (source: Brandwatch). Contributors on both sides are posting more frequently.

    Figure 4

    Reasons for the domination of the online debate by Leave advocates can be discussed at length. We may point to a more disparate coalition of groups of the pro-Brexit side in addition to the official Vote Leave campaign, or to an anti-establishment, anti-status quo sentiment of online discussion more broadly.

    And whilst this cannot be considered in the same vein as traditional polling as an indicator of the eventual result, its importance should not be underestimated. For the undecided voter that turns to online platforms for guidance or verification of whatever facts exist on either side, this is what they will encounter.

    Similarly, the noisy, crowded nature of this discussion highlights the importance of careful navigation and accurate targeting of the right content, to the right voters and the right times, particularly for those encouraging Remain and the official Stronger In campaign.

    Whilst the overall structure of the campaign shouldn’t necessarily be of concern to Stronger In, it further highlights that directing messages demographically or geographically is no longer adequate or necessary, and that it is possible to cut through the noise by engaging a relatively small set of influencers.

    With less than a month until the vote, understanding the changing nature of this debate structure is crucial to both sides.

    With the issue of Turkish accession to the EU entering the campaign in earnest last weekend, and with Sadiq Khan and City Hall diving into the campaign to actively promote Remain in the following days, network graphs provide an excellent way of understanding the impact and prevalence of such messaging, and which accounts are influential within this morass. This series aims to understand some of those facets over the upcoming weeks.

    This blogpost is the first from an Ogilvy London series analysing the online EU referendum debate from a variety of angles in the weeks before the vote on June 23. You can read the original blogpost here

    Gareth Ham Elections EU Member States European Union Internet

    Gareth Ham

    The online debate around the EU referendum: should Remainers be concerned?


    13 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

  • Almost everywhere in the EU we see growing doubts about the EU’s capacity to act: in many countries, populist parties are getting stronger. They reject European integration and call for a return of the nation state. The gap between high expectations and the harsh reality has undermined the public support for the European integration project. In particular, during the refugee crisis, the European Union has failed to meet expectations. But does this justify the calls for less Europe?

    The terrorist attacks which struck at the heart of Europe were planned across national borders: National actions alone will not counter them effectively. International terrorism, the conflicts in our immediate vicinity which are the cause of so much instability and human suffering, and the flow of refugees are problems which no EU member state can tackle on its own. Yet, what could a European solution look like?

    Despite of the different approaches taken by the member states, the refugee crisis has illustrated the need for a European Border and Coast Guard with far-reaching powers. The protection of our external borders, and consequently of the security of the whole Union, can no longer be the sole responsibility of, in some cases overburdened, national authorities.

    The March 18th agreement between the EU and Turkey shows that only a united European Union, in co-operation with its neighboring countries, can find sustainable solutions. However, further steps are necessary. We urgently need a reform of the Dublin system including a fair distribution of asylum seekers among all EU member states. The same rights, duties, and rules must apply to all refugees across Europe. The further development of the European Asylum System is therefore the only viable solution. One thing remains clear: In a globalized world, in which Europe is and intends to remain an important actor, we will have to deal with the question of migration for a long time to come, irrespective of the conflict in Syria.

    The numerous crises in our immediate neighborhood highlight the need for a coherent EU foreign policy. Europe should also be able to guarantee its own security – both internally and externally. Therefore, the EU has to step up its support of democratization processes, in its Eastern and Southern neighborhood. In the long term, we should aim for a common economic area with our neighbors. The common threats we face also call for an ambitious European security strategy with a vision for Europe’s role in the world. We need to strengthen the co-operation of our national military forces with the goal of joint military action. In the fight against terrorism, a better exchange of information between our intelligence services is indispensable, as well as a closer cooperation between both police and judicial authorities.

    European citizens justifiably expect the Union to act faster and more flexibly in order to fulfill these goals. To this end, we first need to speed-up the decision making process in the EU by expanding majority decisions, particularly in the area of foreign and security policy. This is the only way that the Union as a whole can act efficiently without always resorting to a “coalition of the willing”. Naturally, we must also strengthen confidence among EU members. The opinion of every member state should be heard and carefully considered before taking such decisions. Secondly, the EU should be able to expand its own resources, as to be more flexible in the prevention and management of future crises. In the long term, the European Union should not limit itself to mere crises responses. Rather, it should claim its position in shaping global developments and demonstrate leadership in its immediate neighborhood.

    The basis for this is a unified EU: the division into East and West, North and South which we are currently witnessing, presents a danger to us all. It is therefore of utmost importance that the United Kingdom remains a part of the European Union. And we should never forget that it is our common European Union values that connect us: human dignity, freedom, democracy, peace, and the rule of law. We should not waste our energy focusing on our divisions, but to concentrate on making Europe, “the community of destiny”, work again. We have no doubt that Europe can succeed in this.

    [This article was originally published in Komentare]

    Mikuláš Dzurinda Hans-Gert Pöttering Democracy European Union Values

    Mikuláš Dzurinda

    Hans-Gert Pöttering

    Europe is doomed to succeed


    08 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

  • The concessions the UK is winning to encourage its citizens to vote to stay in the EU could make the EU even more complicated than it is. They could slow down decision making still further, at the very time when problems are becoming more, not less urgent. This would not be “Reform”. Yet David Cameron says he wants the keep the UK in what he calls a “reformed European Union”. 

    Already the UK is exempt from joining the euro, exempt from the common border rules of Schengen and does not have to take part in EU activities to combat crime (although it can opt into these on a pick and mix basis). It is a semi-detached member of the EU, which makes it harder for the UK to exercise leadership in the EU.

    Now the UK is seeking, and may be granted at a Summit next Thursday, new concessions. These concessions are being sought because UK public opinion is convinced that the EU is undemocratic and should be curbed. They are convinced the only locus of true democracy for the UK is Westminster. 

    The truth is that neither the EU, nor Westminster are a perfect expression of democracy. In Westminster a party can have an overall majority of the seats with only 37% of the vote. In the EU, while the members of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers each have democratic mandates, the people of Europe have only a very indirect vote on who is to be the President of the European Commission. EU voters, unlike Westminster voters, do not have a sense that they can throw the EU government out of office.

    But, instead of focussing on how to make the EU level governance more democratic, UK negotiators have concentrated on enhancing the capacity of the 28 national parliaments to block EU law making. Given that the UK is a global player, one would have expected it instead to focus on making global and EU wide governance more democratic, rather than slowing things down or simply repatriating powers to the national level.


    As part of the package devised to respond to UK requests, EU rules are to be changed to allow 55% of national parliaments to apply to have an EU law blocked before it has been properly considered by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.  This “Red Card” power is to be exercised within 12 weeks of the law having been presented at EU level. This blockage is supposed to be grounded on a claim that the EU law breaches to principle of “subsidiarity”.

    Subsidiarity is a philosophical concept around which there can be so many differences of opinion, that it does not constrain this blocking mechanism being used for reasons of pure political opportunism. One could easily envisage an EU law that had been introduced to open up the EU market for legal services being opposed virulently by lawyers in every member state. Or one could imagine an EU law to open up the energy market across borders being opposed by high cost producers in a number of states.

    As it is, the lawyers and the energy companies can, and do, already fight such laws in the European Commission before they are presented, and then in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament while they are being debated, voted upon, and compromised in and between Parliament and Council. Now, to allay UK worries, a new field of operation is being opened up for the lobbyists who want to stop an EU law: the 28 national parliaments of the EU.

    EU lobbyists will now be tempted to open offices in the capitals of all member states, so that they can be ready to lobby on behalf of clients to persuade members of national parliaments to use of the Red Card to stop a future EU law a client might not like.

    Parliamentary majorities can change and many EU countries are governed by coalitions or minority governments, so one could envisage EU lobbyists seeking to exploit domestic inter party rivalries, or domestic instability, to win support for the use of a Red Card by a national parliament.

    All national parliaments are equal in this system, so the 55% blocking vote could come from countries that represent only a small minority of the EU population. It is therefore surprising that the UK, which is a big country, is championing this mechanism. 

    It is also surprising for another reason. The UK is primarily an exporter of services rather than goods.  It is in the area of services, rather than goods, that the EU Single market is furthest from completion. Therefore, services is an area where the EU will need to pass the most laws to sweep aside national restrictions on competition from other EU states. 

    As a services exporter, the UK would have much more to gain than to lose from the EU Services liberalisation legislation. Yet it is the UK which is seeking a red card that would make it easier for opponents of liberalisation to delay and block EU liberalisation legislation!


    Another proposed concession to the UK could also complicate EU decision making on economic and financial matters. Here the UK concern is about rules being made to govern the euro, which might inhibit UK financial operators making full use of the euro zone market.

    On the other hand, as we have learned from the crisis, banking problems in one jurisdiction infect others very easily. UK and US banks were exposed by the Greek crisis and did not complain when EU action protected their interests!

    The EU authorities may have to act very quickly if there is a new banking crisis. The EU banking union is not complete, especially as far as deposit insurance is concerned. Yet to satisfy the UK, it is now  proposed that a member state, like the UK, that is not in the euro zone, be free to appeal a proposed EU law, which is proposed to safeguard the euro, to the European Council (where it may be able to veto it).

    This is despite the fact that it is also proposed, in the special package for the UK, that non euro members are to be freed of any financial obligation for euro area costs and that in non-euro zone countries, supervision of banks be a “matter for their own authorities” according to the text.

    The proposed procedure would allow a non-euro member, like the UK, to delay an EU law that is needed, in the view of the states that are in the euro, to safeguard their currency or to ensure the solvency and proper supervision of their banks, in the interests of customers and depositors.

     It is unclear what happens when the appeal is brought to the European Council. The European Council usually decides issues by unanimity, so one could envisage an urgent EU law to safeguard the euro or the euro zone economy being vetoed there by the UK, which was not even in the euro. This is giving the UK power without responsibility.

    The proposal for the UK does say that “member states whose currency is not the euro shall not impede the implementation of legal acts linked to the functioning of the euro area and shall refrain from measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the economic and monetary union”. But these are all matters of judgement on which it may not be easy to find unanimity, especially when time is short, and national interests collide.


    For the past two millennia, Britain has had a vital interest in the peace and prosperity of continental Europe. It has gone to war many times to preserve it. English is the language of EU governance. The EU Single Market is a modern application of the ideas of Adam Smith.

    Two hundred years ago, when European states were much less interdependent than today and were recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, the then UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, persuaded the European powers to make, in his words, “a systematic pledge of preserving concert among the leading powers and a refuge under which all minor states may look to find their security”. While his views on Ireland were mistaken, Castlereagh’s views on Europe were not.

    Rather than seeking a series of further exemptions and so called “reforms” that will slow even further an already complex EU lawmaking system, David Cameron should follow Castlereagh’s example and set out his country’s own comprehensive vision for the peace and prosperity of Europe.

    Then he might give himself a chance of winning the Referendum he has chosen to have. 

    John Bruton EU Member States European Union Leadership

    John Bruton

    David Cameron and the courage of real reform


    15 Feb 2016

  • Next June the people of the UK may vote to leave the European Union. At the moment, a narrow majority favours remaining in the EU, but a large group are undecided. That group could swing towards a “leave” position for a variety of reasons, including what might be temporary EU problems with refugees. However temporary the reasons might be, a decision to leave, once made, would be politically irreversible.

    So it would be wise for Ireland to give thought now to how it might react to a decision by UK voters to leave the EU, and how it would play its hand in the subsequent negotiations. A number of scenarios will arise and Ireland needs to identify its red lines in each one of these.


    The negotiation of a UK withdrawal from the EU will be done under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It will have to be a quick negotiation because Article 50 contains a two year time limit. In practice the negotiation of withdrawal arrangements will all have to be finished in about 21 months.

    From the date that the UK Prime Minister informs the European Council of his/her decision to implement the referendum decision, the two year time limit starts to run. Assuming a June 2016 Referendum, I calculate the Withdrawal Treaty would have to been negotiated, ratified, and brought into force by July 2018.

    So the negotiations themselves between the EU side and the UK side would probably have to be finished at latest by April 2018, to allow time for parliamentary ratifications. In the event that no agreement had been reached within the deadline, the EU Treaties “would cease to apply” to the UK. The UK would simply be out of the EU, without even a trade agreement.

    This would be exceptionally disruptive of the UK economy, and of some, but not all, EU states’ economies. It would be particularly bad for Ireland. Our exports to the UK would be at risk, and the border would be deepened with incalculable consequences.


    The two year limit could be extended, but only with the consent of all 27 members of the EU. If the negotiations had become contentious, or if the UK demands bore heavily against the interests of one or two states, one could see the required unanimous consent for an extension of negotiating time being withheld.

    This risk of a single refusal to extend time for negotiation, adversely affects the dynamics of the negotiation, from a UK point of view, because the UK has more to lose from failure. It is not inconceivable that a populist government in a member state might hold a time extension for the UK hostage to obtain some other unrelated matter, such as debt relief.  A European Parliament in election year could also be a source of uncertainty.

    While a time extension would require unanimity, the actual negotiation of the terms of withdrawal would need a “Qualified Majority” within the European Council.


    That means that the terms of the Withdrawal Treaty would need to support of 72% of the 27 EU governments, collectively representing at least 65% of the total EU population. Ireland, on its own, could not block a Withdrawal Treaty that contained terms that were against Irish interests. Nor could Ireland guarantee it would be agreed on terms that would adequately protect Ireland’s interests. For example, Ireland could not necessarily prevent passport controls or customs posts on the border in Ireland.

    While 72% of  EU member state governments must agree to the Treaty terms, 100% of the 27 national parliaments must do so, and ratification could become entangled in General Elections  in some states in the interim. While our fellow EU member states will undoubtedly recognise the Ireland will suffer more than any other EU state from a UK withdrawal, which does not guarantee that Irish interests will be taken into account in all cases. Quid pro Quo will apply, and that could cause difficulties on vital Irish interests on EU issues that have little direct bearing on the UK Withdrawal as such.

    Given the short time involved, the UK will not have the option of pursuing a relaxed post referendum exploration of different types of external association with the EU. It will probably have to decide at the outset what form of relationship it is seeking. It will have to choose among options that do not require the EU itself to change its Treaties. The options were well described in a recent paper by Jean Claude Piris, former legal advisor to the European Council.


    The simplest would be to join the European Economic Area (EEA), while leaving the EU itself. The EEA allows Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to take part in the EU Single Market, but without being in the EU Agricultural, Fisheries, Judicial and Foreign Policies.

    In the EEA, the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget, to apply EU Single Market rules without having the say it now has in them, and to allow free movement of EU migrants to work in the UK on the same terms as locals.

    Ireland’s problem with this option would be the departure of the UK from the EU Common Agricultural Policy which would raise issues of fair competitive access for Irish farm produce to the UK market. Management of Atlantic Fisheries would also become more contentious.


    Less simple would be for the UK to seek to make tailor made agreements with the EU, like Switzerland has. This negotiation would be a very complex process where tradeoffs would have to be sought between different sectors and national interests. The Swiss model has not worked well from an EU point of view, and one could expect EU negotiators to take an exceptionally tough line if this is what the UK seeks. The issue of access to the UK labour market for EU citizens would certainly be a demand from the EU side in such a negotiation.

    In practice, if not in theory, the UK would have to implement EU law in all the areas for which it sought access to the EU market. This would be very problematic from the point of view of the financial services exports from London to Europe. 

    Once such a deal had been concluded, the EU side would be under pressure to tilt its own internal rules to favour financial service providers in the EU itself. If a system of mutual support and mutual supervision of financial service providers existed within the EU, and the UK was not part of that, there would then be valid grounds for objecting to UK financial service providers benefitting from a market they were not supporting on the same basis as EU providers.

    This could hurt London, and Dublin could be a beneficiary.  Outside the EU, the UK could do little to stop this. The European Banking Authority would have to leave London and there would be a good case for relocating it in Dublin.


    Another option would be for UK just to seek a trade agreement with the EU, like Canada has. This option is favoured by some of those who want the UK to leave the EU, so it needs to be studied. 

    The first thing to say about this is that it would have to be negotiated within the two year time limit applying to a Withdrawal Treaty under Article 50, and would presumably have to be part of the Withdrawal Treaty. The existing Canada Agreement took 6 years to negotiate and dealt with a much less complex relationship than that between the UK and the rest of Europe.  It is very hard to see how all this could be done in the time frame. The European Parliament would actively involve itself in the details. The UK would be excluded from the European council discussions on the topic.

    A Canada type agreement would not necessarily mean continuing tariff free access to the EU for all UK goods. Some tariffs remain on some Canadian goods for the time being. It is unlikely that a trade agreement like this, or even a Customs Union of the kind Turkey has with the EU, would allow the UK access to the EU financial services market and financial services are one of the UK’s biggest exports.

    It is clear that under a Canada style agreement, the UK would have to comply with EU rules on any goods or services it wanted to export to Ireland or to any other EU member state. The UK would have no say in the framing of these rules, but it would still be bound by them.

    Of course, the UK would be free to make its own rules for goods and services sold within the UK, but the downside of that would be that UK firms would then have to operate under two different rule books, one for the UK and another for the EU, thereby adding to their costs and damaging their competitiveness.

    Once a Canada style agreement had been made, the UK would be out of the EU and would have no control over any further rules on new topics that the EU might need to make. The Canada agreement is clear that it does not restrict the EU making “new laws in areas of interest” to it. If the Canada model was followed there would be a Regulatory Cooperation Forum to cover this sort of thing. In the Canadian model, this Forum would allow: 

    •  “exchange of information and experiences”,
    •  “only provide suggestions and make no rules”
    •  “not have decision making powers”.

    In other words, the UK would be in a worse position than it is as a voting member of the EU. If, after the UK had withdrawn, the EU deepened its service market further, allowing new access rights across border  for service providers within the EU, the UK would miss out on this and would have to negotiate  access for its service providers on a case by case basis. The rights of the 1.8 million UK citizens now living in EU countries would also be less secure. UK citizens, living in Ireland or the continent, would enjoy only what Canadians enjoy.


    Furthermore, the UK would have to start from scratch negotiating trade agreements with countries all over the world, to replace the trade agreements it now has with all those same countries as a member of the EU. The UK Parliament would certainly be busy as well, in that it would have to pass new UK laws to replace all the EU regulations that are now part of UK law.

    The only alternative to this would be for the UK to decide to leave all the “acquis” of EU rules and regulations, which are now supposedly so objectionable, on the UK statute book, as they are, for a long time to come. One proponent of UK exit from the EU, Lord Lamont, admitted, in a debate with me recently that this is what they would have to do. Leaving the EU, only to leave EU rules on the UK statute book, seems like a lot of trouble to achieve very little!


    There would be no second referendum on the final terms of any Withdrawal Treaty. This has been made clear by Chancellor Osborne. That has to be his position because, if there was to be such a referendum, the choice would presumably be either to leave on the basis of the terms of withdrawal Treaty, or stay in on the basis of the EU membership exactly as it is today.

    If such a second referendum was formally in prospect, it is hard to see that the EU side would have any incentive at all to offer the UK any concessions at in the Withdrawal Treaty negotiations. They would be mad to do so, because all the concessions would achieve, would be to make withdrawal more attractive.


    I believe that the architects of the UK’s renegotiation/referendum strategy did not adequately consider how hazardous the voyage is, on which they have so casually embarked. They may have overestimated the EU’s political capacity to devise yet another special deal for the UK. Ireland, for its part, will have to adopt a very tough, deliberate, and multifaceted negotiating strategy, as long as this avoidable uncertainty prevails.

    John Bruton Elections EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism

    John Bruton

    BREXIT scenarios


    29 Jan 2016

  • As a consequence of the dramatic events in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall in Europe, the introduction of the Euro and the speedy EU enlargement some years later gave an impression that the EU’s future development would continue at a very rapid pace.

    Those years were also a source of optimism and inspiration for EU integrationists, who realised that EU integration could and had to move forward quickly. The assumption was that the end result would be, in a relatively short amount of time, something close to a political and economic union.

    Meanwhile, however, memories of the 2nd word war started to fade away and the stated purpose of the European Union as a guarantor for peace started to have less meaning for the voters. In most  cases, peace in Europe was taken for granted. On the other hand, as the European Union started to develop, it started to have an influence on the national sovereignty of  EU member states.

    In addition to these developments, Europe’s long term economic prospects,  demographic changes and rapid globalisation created worrying concern. While globalisation provided many opportunities for European firms, it also had a profound impact on many areas of citizen life, which was perceived by many as a threat. Citizens felt that the European Union had not been able to perform in relation to the big challenges facing the economy and security in Europe.

    As a result, the idea of a united Europe became less and less convincing. The ongoing crisis within the European Union was understood as a crisis of the future existence of the European Union – and the question of whether or not the European Union had a long term future emerged.

    In his article on the development of the EU, Steven Hill made a point to compare the development of the United States with the development of the European Union. He emphasised the fact that severe crises, even existential, were essential to the development of the US. It took around 80 years before the idea that the US would be one country became accepted by mainstream thinking.

    Before reaching that point, the US had to deal with the fact that, in the beginning, there were various currencies, various religions and various languages which citizens could not unite around. Only after various financial crises and one civil war did it become clear that the US would be accepted as a single national project by everybody. Similarly, Hill points out that we should not see European integration as a technical process, but rather as a cultural and social one, which by definition will take decades rather than years to achieve.

    Can we accept the fact, just maybe, that the EU will become both psychologically and emotionally important for the people in the distant future, much like a nation state is today? And if so, what shall we do in the meantime?

    Offering “More Europe” as a solution for problems may resonate well in many establishments, but obviously it has become less and less popular as an argument for the voters. In fact, if we look now at the rise of populist parties and the challenges that the EU is currently facing on many fronts, it seems unlikely that the EU will move forward very quickly in its integration process.

    But the EU has been taking great steps in integration throughout the last 7-8 years. The motivation for that was not found “values” or in a principle based debate, but rather in the need to quickly create instruments to tackle urgent challenges of the economic crisis.

    What we, those who are in favour of a closely-integrated Europe, need to accept is that, before we find a solution to the challenging questions of security and economy, it is rather meaningless to focus on bold visions of the future of Europe when communicating with citizens– because the popular support is just not there today. The EU has a toolbox, rich with instruments, so we need to concentrate on solutions with instruments that we currently have.

    Secondly, we need to challenge our thinking of the linear development of the EU and be ready for unorthodox ideas. The idea of a united Europe is a precious one, but it should not be taken as a religion. A dogmatic approach is futile. Situations and conditions will change, so the EU needs to be able to adapt.

    Comparing the idea of a united Europe to the Soviet Union is unfair and incorrect, but nevertheless, some historic lessons can be drawn. The Soviet Union did stick to its communist ideals rigidly almost to the very end  and did try to adapt too little too late. As a result, the system broke down. In contrast, China came to terms with reality and took a path clearly contradicting its original communist ideology. The result: the Soviet Union collapsed but China became a global superpower. The lesson: you should be ready to challenge your basic assumptions, even if those assumptions are very dear to you.

    We should not be scared if the solutions we find now do not correspond strictly to  views on the EU as they were presented a half century ago. The reality that we face will force us to accept options which today may seem unconventional. As an example, the sacred token of the EU, Schengen, is today de facto only partly functioning and we need to redesign that basic element of the EU. Furthermore, if the UK would leave the EU, we would be forced to rethink the entire European construction.

    The European Union is not only about technical and political decisions, but it is also about the psychology of the people – commitment, emotions and feelings. What we are asking nations and people to do is to commit to each other in a manner unseen in human history. While some of the positive sentiment is already there, it needs time to grow. We now realise that this will take decades, maybe even more than a lifetime.

    So what is left of the dream of a united Europe? If we who believe in the united Europe stick to our main argument that deeper cooperation among European states is the only way to deal with the global challenges that we face, then there is a future for deeper European integration. For example, the majority of European citizens are unsure of rapid integration but a great majority agree that the dilemmas which we face, namely the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorist threats, and Russia’s challenge, need to be met with stronger cooperation from within the EU.

    People are today reluctant to accept deeper integration, but are very willing to accept a model on which they have the confidence to provide a solution even if it means strengthening the EU’s level of cooperation. Therefore, the main issue is to focus on the problems.  While the EU’s institutional set up is relevant, it is secondary.

    We need to accept that that the development of the EU will be done to some extent by trial and error and we should not panic when setbacks happen. Let us not live in denial. It is possible that the Schengen area will be reduced temporarily, or it is even possible that Brexit will occur. But let us go beyond defeatist pessimism. Those events may seem dramatic if they happen, but if we employ a longer historical perspective, we can understand these events as invitations to recalibrate our common European institutions and political instruments.

    We will not find a new narrative for the European Union as, at the moment, there is no overarching story to sell the tale of a united Europe.  If one existed, it would have already been found. In order to gain the support of European citizens, it will be necessary to find solutions to the challenges, case-by-case, and communicate our success stories to the rest of the world – and that is the narrative and vision that the majority of Europeans can agree upon. 

    Tomi Huhtanen European Union Euroscepticism Leadership

    Tomi Huhtanen

    What future for the EU? Beyond pessimism and denial


    22 Jan 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

  • What we are going through now … will change our country. – Angela Merkel

    We don’t want to change! – Viktor Orban

    Just like previous crises, the one about the refugees has highlighted a deep split among member states of the European Union. The Euro crisis seemed to divide the Union into North and South. This one goes East-West. It could actually become the most destructive split we have seen since the Union enlarged to 25 in 2004. Mind you, it is an East-West rift only on the government level. The electoral successes of national populists such as Front National show that the picture is more complex. So does the fact that in Central Europe, parts of civil society valiantly fight back against their governments’ tendencies. And yet, the conflict is now largely perceived as East vs. West, new vs. old member states.

    Why is this so significant? Because the Big Bang enlargement of 2004, and the two smaller ones 2007 and 2013, by taking in mostly former Iron Curtain countries, were the embodiment of a Europe Whole and Free. After the plus jamais la guerre entre nous (the prevention of war as the initial rationale for integration) of the 1950s, the year 1989 added a second grand narrative to European integration: The irreversible end of Europe’s postwar partition, and its firm anchoring in the West. This went along with the recognition that the essence of the West, and the optimal pattern for successful societies, were liberal democracy and the market economy – i.e. political and economic freedom, and their mutual dependence. This narrative of 1989 is now in jeopardy.

    That is because the rift is not only about refugees and immigration. It is ultimately about the question of how we define Europe in the 21st century: Who do we want to be in 20 years? Will we be globalised, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, or closed, white and Christian? Are we defined more by (maybe all too dark) fears, or by (possibly too starry-eyed) hopes?  And on that backdrop, a pattern is emerging in which the two sides also disagree about European integration, social norms, and the question of the type of democracy we should live in. None of these conflicts is really new, but thanks to the spat over refugees they have consolidated into a broad disagreement.

    On Europe, one side advocates moving towards stronger competences for EU institutions (Parliament, Council, Commission) where it matters: bigger on the big things, smaller on the small things. Opposing this is a movement to rather re-nationalise central EU competences, or at least not allow any further transfer of powers to ‘Brussels’. On norms, we have, most prominently, the remarkable changes on LGBT rights in many member states – which are resisted by those who define them as West European moral imperialism. On democracy, we see a sharp division emerging between the proponents of liberal democracy, i.e. free elections plus checks and balances, independent media and strong civil society – and on the other hand, those of an ‘illiberal state’ where the majority rules but institutional limits to its power are considered as only helping the rich, the liberal elites or the political Left. The governments of Hungary and Poland are excellent examples of the latter tendency.

    Like all meaningful political conflict, this here is ultimately about reality and about time. It is about who has their feet firmly on the ground of facts, and who lives in Lalaland. And it is about who is stuck in the past, and who owns the future. Consequently, Central Europe’s ultraconservatives and Western Europe’s national populists are regularly accused of living in a 19th or early 20th century mindset, and in denial of global facts, demographic necessities etc. Whereas West European governments and liberal elites in Central Europe are seen as stuck in the hippie dreams of the late 20th century, and in denial of the dangers of ‘anything goes’, the coming ‘migration of peoples’ and the decline of the West. So the rift is deep indeed.

    But if such sizeable parts of governments, elites and public opinion cannot agree on a common narrative for Europe anymore, hence, if the narrative of 1989 is no longer valid, then Europe is in deep trouble. So how can we make a revamped European narrative majoritarian again? This will be a major task for the upcoming years. And I see it going to the Centre Right in a very broad definition – Liberals, Christian Democrats and moderate conservatives.

    It must contain the universality of Human Rights and our commitment to human dignity – this is not negotiable. But regaining control of our borders is equally legitimate and in itself not to be confused with xenophobia. And: Europe will not be able to absorb all the suffering of the world. Liberal democracy is a form of government and not to be confused with liberal policies, and checks and balances are in no way negotiable. On European integration, subsidiarity should become the ruling principle: that includes referring some competences to national or regional levels, but increasing EU-level integration in defence, security and immigration policies, for example, because there is simply no progress on these topics for individual countries. Economic success will be key to regaining political majorities and weakening the extremes. And that means opening up, not closing ourselves in. It means fiscal consolidation (this is where the Left is useless) and constant modernisation. In immigration policy, we need to face up to the fact that we need immigration but we have to be in a better position to decide who actually joins us, and we have to become much more self-confident about the values that immigrants must accept if they want to be successful. What counts in 20 years is not how white or how Christian we’ll be but whether we’ll still be an open society. Much to learn here from North America and other immigration societies around the globe. Last but not least, a renewed commitment to the West as a globally attractive model, is necessary as well as possible.

    All this is just a sketchy outline of what is needed. But what may well be the most important element in the new rift on what Europe is really all about, has to do with language and communication. Both sides, at least among governments and ruling political parties, must calm down and return to a more rational dialogue. No one in Europe should accuse someone else of belonging to a different century or living outside of reality. If we could achieve that in the upcoming months, it would be a good start.

    [This text was written for the SAC Château Béla Central European Strategic Forum 2015]

    Roland Freudenstein European Union Foreign Policy Migration

    Roland Freudenstein

    A Clash of Cultures ? Refugees and the new East-West divide in the EU


    17 Dec 2015

  • Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in the blogpost are those of the author and thus they do not reflect the official position of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. 

    Indeed, the huge majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But the majority of perpetrators of terrorist acts in Europe since 2001 are Muslims. That fifteen million European Muslims generate more terrorists – including the thousands that travel to join ISIS – than half a billion of Europeans shows that their integration in Europe, especially in France, is failing.

    What can’t Europe do?

    Campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq achieved little but a regrouping of radical Islamists into a different organisation. Bombing the Middle East to Stone Age will not achieve much either. We should stop the migration flows and improve border controls. This would make sense at least until we learn how to better integrate Muslims into our societies.

    But what about all those who are already in Europe? Again, I do not believe much can be achieved by violence. Fencing off Muslim ghettos or sending young jobless people to labor camps is unjust, inhumane and stupid. Policing and security checks are just the last line of defense. Battles with Islamists may be won with weapons, the war not.

    Maybe we need more social workers for Muslim neighborhoods. More basketball and football fields. More and better teachers at schools. More jobs and/or higher welfare. Maybe. I am not so sure, because these services are quite extensive already.

    Win the culture war

    Recently, it became politically incorrect to claim that at least in the last five hundred years, the European civilization has been by far the most successful one on the planet, with clearly superior achievements to its neighbors across the Mediterranean. Calling that Eurocentrism does not make these claims false.

    Europe did not achieve that because of some kind of racial or genetic superiority. We did not have better hardware, we had better software. The fight with Islamic extremism is a fight of two softwares – one that enabled the most successful civilization on earth and the other that – if used dogmatically – was keeping whole nations in the middle ages.

    Simply put, being a member of the European civilization needs to become more attractive. It should be “hip” not to be a member of a local gang of immigrants, but be part of the civilization that built the Champs Elysées, Tulleries and the Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Church of Saint-Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower, the civilization that has painted the artwork in the Louvre and Orsay, be a part of a country that gave humanity Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie and Claude Debussy.

    How does this compare to the achievements of the countries that Muslims came from? Politically incorrect question? Here is a politically incorrect answer: at the climax of their power, they added minarets to the largest building on earth at the time, the Christian church of Hagia Sophia. This might be a dramatic exaggeration, Arab Science in the Middle Ages had quite a few achievements, but was held back in the ivory towers. It was Western Science that changed the world.

    Why are we Westerners unable to share the pride for the achievements of our brilliant civilization to immigrants? Why don’t all of them want to become a contributing force to this? Muslim youth could participate in the construction of the largest aircraft and the fastest trains in the world; instead, some are planning to bomb them. Europe had an open border for a long time, they were welcomed, and yet so many remain strangers.

    But not with relativism

    Perhaps this is so because some of the Westerners have lost faith in themselves, have stopped to take pride in their own achievements and roots. Yes, I am talking about the readers who were appalled by the deliberate political incorrectness and Euro-supremacism of the last couple of paragraphs.

    How can we give an African or Arab the desire to become part of this great civilization, when some Europeans prefer to deny their fathers, religion, civilization and its achievements? How can becoming European be attractive if values that are immanently European are labelled “universal human values”?

    No, comrades, liberté, égalité, fraternité are not universal human values. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness neither. These are Western values. Fabriqué en France, made in the USA! As long as some are ashamed to be European, we can’t expect immigrants to want to become a part of our society and culture.

    This society is secular in principle with enough room for Muslim and other faiths, cultures and identities, but without genital mutilation of women, arranged marriages of minors, gender inequality, stoning of gays and bloggers etc. If being European is not able to inspire people, then it is only right that Europe is occupied by a culture that can. The vacuum created by relativism, conceptual entropy and cultural capitulation will be filled with something else. Anything, including Salafism and the sooner, the better. There will be fewer victims.

    Remember Paris 1789

    But if it matters to be European, then our response to the atrocities must also be European. Civilized not barbaric, determined not wishy-washy, proud not shy. Guilt is always individual and never collective. Their way is to kill the innocents, our method is to process the suspects. Sharply, strongly and fairly. If we want to win the war of culture, the last thing we should do is abandon our principles and values.

    As long as proven otherwise, everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims, are free and equal first-class citizens with all their freedoms, rights and duties. They were, are and will be equal, maybe because 2,000 years ago someone said that we are all children of God. And definitely because it was in Paris in 1789 that someone wrote: “People are born free and with equal rights.”

    Not only if we forget what that means, but also if we deny who and in what tradition invented it, Europe as we know it, will be dead.

    Žiga Turk Democracy European Union Society Values

    Žiga Turk

    Remember Paris!


    18 Nov 2015


    We are in a time of war, war not in Europe itself, but close enough to Europe to have led to massive outflows of refugees across borders and into Europe. I heard this described at the EPP Congress in Madrid as the “most serious crisis for the European Union since its creation”. This is not an exaggeration. This refugee crisis is on a scale unprecedented since the Second World War and the Spanish Civil war, because this is a war, in Syria and Iraq, of a ferocity and intensity not seen since then. 300,000 people have been killed in the Syrian War. Most of these people are not coming to Europe for economic reasons, or because they are on a mission of any kind, but because they are in fear of their lives. They are seeking refuge. They are the human embodiment of the price of war. Their plight is a human manifestation of what the voluntary European Union was created to avoid in Europe itself: war.


    If the EU is facing its most serious crisis ever, it is important that we keep a sense of historical perspective. Only thus can we realise how much is at stake. Over the past 2500 years, Europe has tried various methods to create internal security on this continent. The idea of European political unity of some kind is not something new. It was achieved, initially by force, in the form of the original Roman Empire.

    Because it was created by force, its unity also had to be maintained, from time to time, by force. When it came to an end there was a dramatic collapse in living conditions, because Roman money, as a continent wide means of exchange,  and access to silver to make it, was lost. Living standards in Britain, for example, fell dramatically in the 5th Century AD. There are lessons in this story for the 21st century.

    Later, from the Middle Ages up to the Reformation, there was a form of unity in Europe when, apart from his religious role, the Pope exercised, without the use of military sanctions, a role of arbiter between European states, analogous to that of the European Court of Justice, combined with elements of that of  the United Nations. Even after the Reformation and the Thirty Years War, a form of unity in part of central Europe persisted in the continuance of the Holy Roman Empire, until, after 100 years,  that was dissolved by Napoleon, who attempted to impose his own form of secular European unity by force of arms.


    When Napoleon failed at Waterloo in 1815, Europe entered the era on nation states, supposedly based on absolute national sovereignty and the balance of power. That era ended, after a mere 150 years, in the holocaust of two world wars, the last of which was preceded by an economic crash and the collapse of democracy across the continent.


    In response to that failure, something entirely new was attempted, a union of European states held together not by military force, or even by  religious sanction, but by a free and voluntary pooling of sovereignty, based on freely agreed rules. That in the European Union of today. There is much to criticise about the EU, and I will voice some myself this morning, but we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.

    The Union has attracted a stream of new member states, starting with 6, and which has now reached 28. Other federal unions and confederations, in other parts of the world, have not had that experience. It has created  a single market of 500 million consumers, although some barriers still remain.


    The EU has come through an economic collapse in Europe, similar to the one that occurred in the 1930’s, but , in contrast to the 1930’s democracy has been preserved in Europe, protectionism and competitive devaluation have been avoided, and, most importantly, European states are still at peace with one another.


    Now, just as it has begun to put in place a banking union to underpin its currency, and fiscal rules to ensure that this generation does not rob the next by excess borrowing, it now faces a challenge for which it seems quite unprepared, a flood of refugees fleeing war in their own countrie (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea) and impossible living conditions in the countries in which they originally sought refuge (Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey) who have so many refugees they cannot cope with them. 70% of Turks say the 20 million Syrians in their midst should go home.

    In an ideal world, one would say that this refugee crisis is a global one and all the countries of the world should come together to receive them on a shared basis.  But this is not going to happen. They are heading for Europe.

    Controls on the movement of people across Europe’s external borders, notably between Greece and Turkey, have broken down. As a result of that failure, barriers are now being re erected between countries within the EU, undermining one of the freedoms on which the EU is based, freedom of movement of people. If this persists, one could see it leading to interference with the freedom to move goods across Europe too.  This is an existential challenge.

    But a pooling of sovereignty can only work if states are able and willing to exercise the sovereign powers they have, one of which is controlling their portion of the EU,’s external border. So the next step will be a major EU border force, and EU reception centres where those who qualify as refugees can be separated from those who do not and the latter sent home.

    Those who are refugees will need to be shared among all 28 EU states, which will not be easy as living standards vary within the EU and refugees themselves will  all want to go to the more prosperous states. That said, I believe a majority of them will want to go home to their own countries if peace can be restored.


    Meanwhile the EU is moving too slowly in applying the lessons of the financial crisis. Most money in use is not coins or notes, but bank credit of one kind or another. So a currency union without a banking union never made sense.

    We have some elements of a banking union now, a single supervisor for most European Bank and a common EU rule for winding up banks. But these have not been tested yet. That test will come when the EU has to close down a bank in a member state, imposing losses on shareholders bond holders and even customers. Will the EU authorities have the political capital to do that?

    It will be particularly hard to do because Germany has resisted the idea of a common euro are wide deposit insurance system which would spread the losses. The burden will fall solely on the country in which the bank is being closed down. That is not politically viable….an EU institution closing down a bank, which it had supervised,  in a state and that state alone bearing the depositor insurance costs.

    There also may be problems with the Fiscal Rules designed to reduce the debt levels of EU states. These debts are just about bearable now, but if interest rates returned to normal levels, what would happen. For example, the proposed Italian budget for next year, which should be reducing the deficit, is actually increasing it. That may make sense in the context of Italian politics, but it undermines the rules, in the same way that France and Germany undermined the rules 10 years ago.

    Europe does not need to create a complete political or economic union to solve these problems. That is politically impossible. But the European Union does needs to come to a shared pragmatic understanding on all of these problems, and think out a long term plan that serves the interests  of a very diverse group of countries in a fair and speedy way.


    At a time when the EU is grappling with its own existential issues, it has the deal with one member state which wants to reconsider whether it should be in the EU at all or not. I will not say much about the details of the UK case, and will just make a few brief points.

    • At a time when Polish and Baltic state populations are being asked to accept refugees to relieve the pressure on Italy, Greece and Germany, it will not be easy to persuade them that their citizens should have less “in work” social benefits in Britain than locals enjoy, when Britain is exempt from taking any refugees because it opted out of the Schengen system
    • If Britain wants to be exempt from paying any of the costs of future EU banking failures, it is hard to grant it a veto over rules that might be designed to prevent such failures
    • On the other hand, British demands for a speedy conclusion of the TTIP agreement with the US, and for a completion of, the  long delayed,  EU single Digital and Services markets, are a big opportunity for Europe. They should be grasped with both hands.
    John Bruton European Union Immigration Migration

    John Bruton

    The challenges that the EU must meet today


    26 Oct 2015

  • The title of this article has positive connotations. It infers that European parties are doing very well and, by taking a few fresh ideas into the 2019 European elections, will be able to do even better. This article will present the current situation of the European political parties and assess the main areas in which improvements can be made to further integration. It is not surprising that this is one of those topics on which researchers have widely divergent opinions.

    Do we really need parties in the EU?

    The EU has evolved into a fully-fledged political system with public opinion, institutions, regulation, and ordinary and extraordinary decision-making procedures. It deals with critical issues, not always visible to the majority of the citizens. These include areas such as agricultural policy, regional development funding instruments, monetary policy, economic policy coordination, the regulation of the internal market and the establishment of the rules governing trade with the rest of the world, among others.

    Although today’s EU is the product of a gradual evolution from the original treaties of the 1950s, much of its current structure is the result of the Maastricht Treaty. The last five years and the enduring financial and sovereign debt crises in the eurozone have further advanced European integration, through the introduction of new institutions and policies to address the design limitations of the monetary union.

    The history of the European political parties and of the pro-European movement are mutually bound together. After several years of sluggish progress on integration in the 1960s due to French reluctance, the 1970s saw significant steps being taken in the European project through the preparation for and introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament (EP). The commencement of the preparatory steps for these elections gave impetus to the creation of European federations.

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

    Michalis Peglis Elections European Union Political Parties

    Michalis Peglis

    How can European political parties maximise their success in the 2019 elections?


    08 Sep 2015

  • Paul Krugman, in the New York Times, urges the Greeks to vote “No” in the referendum next Sunday. So does Joe Stiglitz in another article in the Guardian. Is this serious advice, or an unhelpful extension to Europe of an ongoing American polemic?

    Paul Krugman says the Euro was a “terrible mistake” because he claims it failed to insulate the public finances of the states of the euro zone from bubbles in particular countries, like he says the US system does. In fact, the US only does this to a limited extent, and, unlike the EU, it has no general bailout fund  for states.

     If I recall things correctly, our present collapse in confidence originated in the United States, in a housing bubble in a small number of US states, that eventually engulfed the whole world! The US system did not prevent that.

     Puerto Rico, a US dependency which is in the dollar zone, has got itself into a Greek style debt trap, without the US monetary union, which is much older and stronger than the EU one, being able to prevent it.

     Krugman says that “most of what you hear about Greek profligacy is false”.

     He makes this bizarre claim on the basis that Greece has made cuts and tax increases since 2010. He completely ignores the profligacy, poor tax collection and the debt accumulation that went on for decades before that, when Greece erected a completely unsustainable pension regime, on the strength of borrowed money.

    He says that since 2010, the Greek economy has collapsed because of “austerity”.

    He fails to outline what the Greeks might have used for money since 2010 if, as he seems to advocate, they had continued with their previous “non austere” spending policies. They would not have been able to borrow the difference on commercial markets. Where would they have got the money? Just because a country is in the eurozone it does not mean it can have an unlimited call on the taxes  or loans of other euro members.

    While there is more to do, like euro area wide deposit insurance, the EU has remedied many of the initial design flaws in the euro, something Paul Krugman does not acknowledge .

    He says that “even harsher austerity is a dead end”, as if cuts and tax increases were all that the EU has been urging unsuccessfully on the Greeks.

    Product and labour market reforms, opening up the professions, better tax collection, and privatisations, have been an important part of the recipe urged on Greece by the EU, and these would greatly improve the allocative efficiency of the Greek economy, and promote growth. Greece needs to move its human resources out of unproductive activities, into areas that will earn money from abroad and the EU reforms will assist that.

    Another Nobel Prize winning economist, Joe Stiglitz, in his article in the Guardian also calls for a “No” vote, but is more extreme.

    He claims the eurozone was ”never a democratic project”. He seems to have completely forgotten that the Maastricht Treaty, which created the legal basis for the euro, was approved by the elected parliaments of every state that is currently a member. It was approved in referenda in several countries, including France and Ireland.

    Furthermore, each of  the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers, who make all the key decisions, represent democratically elected governments.

    Greece was not forced to join the euro in the conditions and at the time that it did. This was a free choice of the Greek government.  Now, governments everywhere would sometimes like to repudiate some decisions of their predecessors, but if that luxury is to be afforded it would destroy the basis for credit and inter state relations.

    He makes a more substantial point when he says that a good deal of the money lent to Greece by the taxpayers of other EU countries and the IMF has gone to help them pay debts they owe to private creditors. But he fails to point out that, unlike those of Ireland and Portugal, Greece’s private creditors have been obliged to take a haircut.

    It is true that the money from the EU has  been used in part to repay banks money they had put into Greek government bonds. Some of these banks were indeed French and German. But some were from outside the euro zone altogether, including from Professor Stiglitz’s own country and from the UK, in one of whose newspapers he is writing.

    Back in the 2010/2012 period, thanks the crisis which started after Lehman Brothers went south, there was a legitimate public interest, a public good, in preventing a run on ANY of these banks. 

    There remains a justifiable argument, however, that it was unfair that the taxpayers of a few countries should now be bearing a disproportionate share of the cost of this public good, which the whole world has enjoyed.

     Yes, the taxpayers of the rest of the euro zone should, in moral terms, bear more of the burden.

     But if that is so, so also should the taxpayers of non euro zone countries like the US and the UK, whose banks were also saved when Ireland, Greece and Portugal got help . 

    Why should German taxpayers, whose personal incomes have grown more slowly than elsewhere in Europe, and who face substantial extra costs in the near future due to ageing, be the focus of all the wrath?

    But then neither Professor Krugman, nor Professor Stiglitz are writing for German, Slovak, Latvian public opinion.

    They are writing in journals, published in countries, whose governments are not being asked to write more and more cheques for a Greek Government, that seems to blame everyone else for home grown problems.

    There is, I believe, an argument for a comprehensive debt conference to consider whether the burdens of dealing with the aftermath of the Lehman collapse, have been fairly distributed between the governments of the world.

    But the convening of any such conference, and eligibility for any help from it, should be something that might happen five years from now, and be conditional on growth promoting reforms, and budget balancing, already having been fully implemented by governments seeking debt relief from it. Perhaps a Third Party might put such a proposal forward, as a way of getting out of the terrible situation Greece is bringing upon itself.

    John Bruton Crisis Economy European Union Eurozone

    John Bruton

    Krugman and Stiglitz: dispatches from a far far away land


    02 Jul 2015

  • In an act of irresponsibility and opportunism, Alexis Tsipras put on the shoulders of the Greek people the burden of the decision about the country’s destiny. The referendum, scheduled for next Sunday, 5 July, rests on shaky grounds for several reasons.

    1. Is it legal? It is questionable whether it is in conformity with the Greek Constitution as it concerns an issue of fiscal economics. There are also serious procedural deficiencies.
    2. Is it late? The referendum is untimely as it will be waged five days following the date on which Greece failed to make a debt payment to the IMF. The Tsipras government has planned to receive the people’s verdict when it might be too late.
    3. Is it fair? The Greek people are asked a very cunning question. They are called to say whether they approve or not a program consisting of a series of austerity measures, following five years of recession. The ‘Yes’ vote is set to signify approval of some version (as negotiations were never completed) of the bailout program. The ‘No’ vote, that carries the endorsement of the government, indicates disapproval for the program and, allegedly, nothing more. Although the crux of the matter is the country’s position in the Eurozone, Tsipras deceitfully tries to conceal or downplay the true consequences of the people’s choice.

    The Greek government has admittedly committed a series of mistakes since its election in January. To be fair, the creditors too have underestimated the socio-economic consequences of a long array of austerity measures that have been applied since 2010. There is widespread ‘austerity fatigue’ in the country and despair for the lack of a clear vision for the return to growth.

    Yet, the overwhelming majority of the Greek people unequivocally supports the country’s EU membership. The most vicious part of this campaign is that the government uses a deeply divisive nationalistic rhetoric that seeks to alienate and separate the Greek from the European identity. But this is a nonstarter.

    • Are the ‘Yes’ voters less Greek?  On the contrary. In the referendum, most Greeks are expected to vote ‘Yes’ in order to protect their country’s place in the European family. In an unprecedented demonstration of wisdom and bravery, thousands of low-income pensioners and employees may vote themselves (in the place of their government and contrary to the latter’s suggestion) in favor of a bailout plan containing measures that will affect their lives directly.
    • Are the ‘No’ voters less European? Far from the truth. Those who will vote ‘No’, do not collectively form an anti-European constituency. Many pro-European forces may buy into the rhetoric of Tsipras that Greece’s position in the Eurozone is not in jeopardy and cast a vote for ‘No’ out of fear of prolonged austerity.

    The outcome of a referendum revolving around a complex and nastily articulated question that additionally takes place within just a week in a climate of fear and uncertainty is hard to predict. Although the country’s European future is at stake, we should not hastily read the referendum result as a vote containing a genuine answer to the question, in or out of the EU. Remember, the government has not dared to articulate such a clear-cut question.

    Irrespectively of the referendum outcome, the EU is urged not to turn its back to the Greek people. For every Greek, being European is not a matter of choice. It is self-referential. And the EU should not lose sight of the insidious way Tsipras attempts to extract the ‘No’ vote. In all circumstances, the EU partners should be ready to help the country to overcome a hardship that has lasted for too long. If the ‘Yes’ vote prevails as I am expecting, the referendum will be studied in the future as a paradigmatic case of a demos that defied its government in times of crisis and put its European identity above and beyond any other discussion. 

    [Photo source:www.bloomberg.com]

    Nikolaos Tzifakis Crisis Democracy European Union Eurozone

    Nikolaos Tzifakis

    The right answer to the wrong question


    01 Jul 2015

  • The British Governments plan to renegotiate the terms of its membership of the EU do not come at a good time. The EU is tackling the possibility of Greece leaving the euro, and Ukraine going bankrupt while simultaneously being dismantled by force by Russia

    Now, while doing all that, the EU has also to address itself to a, yet to be revealed, British re-negotiation agenda. It is likely that this agenda, to some extent, will be shaped around David Cameron’s assessment of what he has a good chance of being conceded.  He is touring EU capitals to find that out. That is a sensible and pragmatic approach on his part.

    What he gets will probably not satisfy the 100 or so Tory MPs who simply want the UK to leave the EU. And with a majority of only 12, David Cameron cannot ignore these MPs.  Other EU leaders will have to judge how close they should go to their bottom line, just to satisfy opinion in a country which may  leave the EU  anyway.

    There is one issue on which David Cameron’s demands are already very explicit and clear…the rights of recent EU immigrants living in the UK. This may, or may not, include Irish immigrants living in Britain, but I expect it could be difficult in EU law for Britain, inside the EU, to discriminate in favour of the Irish against other EU nationals. 

    The Conservative Manifesto could not be clearer on the position of recent immigrants from other EU countries. It says that: “If (EU) jobseekers have not found a job within 6 months, they will be required to leave.“&n