What is the event that made the biggest impression on you since the EU was created in 1957?
Etienne Davignon, single market, customs union and industrial affairs commissioner (1977‑85) and vice-president (1981‑85).
Etienne Davignon: without a doubt, what strikes me as the key moment is the thing that, for me, best symbolises the EU: the arrival of the euro, as this is a great example of the concrete difference that European integration makes to our daily lives. History tells us that one of the characteristics of a nation is its currency. In moving to share a common currency, millions of European wrote a new page in their history. The euro is a symbol of unity on a continent devastated so many times in the past by war. For me, it is the most highly‑visible symbol of the watershed that was the creation of the EU. With the single currency, Europeans invented a model without precedent in history, a political and economic union based on shared commitment by its member nations.
Frans Andriessen, competition commissioner (1981-1985), agriculture and external relations / trade policy commissioner in the two Delors commissions (1985-1993).
Frans Andriessen: Undoubtedly, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the perspectives it opened up for the further development of European integration on a continental scale, along with German re-unification, the end of the Warsaw Pact and the implosion of the Soviet Union; even though at that time the term ‘European Union’ had not yet been officially adopted. Unfortunately, the way in which we have handled the enlargement strategy has not been really adapted to the extent of the problems. In particular, we have put the emphasis too much on expansion rather than closer integration. That’s partly the reason that now, in institutional terms, we are at a kind of impasse. But it doesn’t change the fact that this was an historical moment for Europe and European integration, and for the world.
Your hopes for the next 50 years of the European family?
Etienne Davignon: All I wish for us in the coming years is that the countries of Europe retain both their confidence and the ambition to keep alive the fundamental ideal behind the project since its inception in the 1950s. That is, acting together with solidarity and determination to change the world for the better. We want to have an influence on our future without being simply dominated by facts and fate; if we keep this ambition, we'll be able to determine ourselves which issues and areas require common action. It is important to have a grand vision rather than just specific goals – and our vision is this: to continue acting together so we can have an influence in the world, an influence our leaders can pass on to their successors. Our Europe is a community of values, one which views its diversity not as a burden, but as an asset. We all share this aspiration to build a European Union based on unity and diversity, economic progress and social justice. A Europe that safeguards its gains of the last 50 years, in solidarity and successive waves of integration, and creates close cooperative ties with its partners.
Frans Andriessen: The world is so different from what it was 30-40 years ago! My impression is that developments are accelerating due to globalisation, with the development of new economies in China, India, and Latin America, and the US’s weakened position in terms of prestige and influence. The world will radically change in the years to come; this makes predictions very difficult. But I believe that the global problems of climate, environment, energy, resources and water will have such an overwhelming impact in the years to come that this will, perhaps, be the new challenge the EU needs to take further steps in integration. Just as the idea of preventing war encouraged the first phase of integration. The impact of these enormous threats to mankind could bring us together with the rest of the world to find common solutions for these problems. It is an opportunity, if we are prepared to work for it. A united Europe is not a natural historical development. It was an act of will. And if we want to, we can do better again, where circumstances are conducive. And this could be the case in facing the challenge of saving the world for the future of mankind.