Seeking new avenues

A three-day meeting in Florence on the future of integration

Europe is torn between those advocating its break up and those supporting its development. It is the primary feature of the debates involving candidates running for the presidency of the European Commission such as those held in the framework of the meeting in Florence past May 9, highlighted on national press reports on the European elections over the past weeks, a detail in the electoral campaign played at national level. The need for a united, stronger Europe, both in political and economic terms, is to be viewed against the backdrop of the developments in Ukraine (linked to major themes such as security and peace, European economy, energy, migrations…), for example. How to extricate oneself from the weaknesses and the cumbersome elements engrained in the European system is a pressing question, debated also during the recent international conference “The State of the Union”, promoted by the European University Institution past May 7-9. A large audience attended the event held in Italy, with EU authorities (notably the head of the Executive José Manuel Barroso), national and European ministers and MPs, economists, jurists, that sparked off hot debates on the ongoing situation and possible scenarios regarding Community integration. Explaining, making oneself understood. “We want to create something completely new in Europe. And that’s why we disturb those who still see things through the lenses of the past”, declared Silvye Goulard, (FR), MEP since 2009. “We should explain in clear terms that we live in the only supranational democracy in the world” and that it “requires efforts”. Greater commitment is demanded especially of the media: “we work in the dark”, the press “fails to provide coverage on our activity” in Strasbourg and Brussels. It’s one of the many “obstacles that prevent citizens from appreciating what is happening in the European Parliament”. Greater capability of selecting future MEPs should be exerted by national parties, “who candidate to the EU Parliament the same people they would candidate for national elections”, while “there is a well-trained young generation”, i.e. the European youths grown with Erasmus. For Goulard, it’s not the case “to overestimate the force of populist parties”, even if they manage to obtain 25% of Parliament seats. In fact, to put it simply, “they don’t share the same views on many political issues”. And furthermore, “they are lazy”, i.e., they are unable to produce projects and proposals. In fact, “all they do is to shout and criticize”. Major questions. “The Union has gone a long way in just 60 t years and we should have confidence as Europeans in a future that reposes on our values, institutions and creativity”: it is the message of Brigid Laffan, Irish, Director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, delivered at the European University Institute. The next elections “will be the first since the Lisbon Treaty changed the dynamics between Europe’s institutions”, but “this is the first time the new dynamics will be tested”. The scholar in international relations invites us all to “focus on major questions (unemployment, research, welfare…) avoiding sterile debates on the future. Laffan identified “four phenomena” that can prompt a new beginning for the EU to “put under pressure but not be abated” by the crisis of the past years: to move beyond the politics of ‘There is No Alternative'”, to create “more Europe and more inclusion” as well as more “differentiation to prevent disintegration”, to “return to geo-politics” so as to “provide the EU with a well-defined foreign policy. Foreign affairs, a thorn in the flesh. “The impression we give to the rest of the world is that we have 28 different foreign policies”, despite institutions such as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, while “we should start working on European common defence policies, even with a light army” is the opinion of Jean-Claude Junker, from Luxembourg, EPP candidate at the presidency of the EU Commission, expressed in the debate of May 9 with other three competitors at the presidency of the Commission (absentee, Alexis Tsipras, Greece, candidate of the Unitary Left coalition). José Bové (FR) conveyed the same view and added that he would replace 1 million 800 thousand soldiers (from EU28 member States) “who are useless for European security”, with a European army of 300thousand militaries. “The EU is strong in its foreign policy, as much as the EU countries allow her to”, echoed Martin Schulz (Socialists & Democrats). Proof of it is the Ukrainian crisis, along with the far-dated Israeli-Palestinian question for which the EU is unable to identify solutions, “but nor has it done enough in the Arab Spring countries” or for Syria, which Guy Verhofstadt (Belgian, Liberals and Democrats) describes as a “shame for Europe”.

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